Among Foundations, Who’s the Biggest Impact Investor?
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Figuring out which foundations engage in the most impact investing is not so easy. While some reports, like a 2015 study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, have gauged how widespread this practice has become in foundations, actual dollar amounts are still hard to come by—unlike annual grantmaking tallies, which are readily available. That’s too bad, since it makes it hard to compare institutions on impact investing or otherwise track a growing stream of foundation dollars.
The paucity of data is also problematic for another reason. As we and others have said before, the rise of impact investing is yet one more trend that is making philanthropy less transparent. The growing popularity of LLCs among some mega-funders, like Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, underscores this point. LLCs are favored because it’s easier to mix traditional grantmaking with impact investing, but these vehicles are also exempt from the public reporting requirements of private foundations.
All this is context for answering the question posed in the title of this post. While there is no handy database to tap for a list of top impact investors by dollar amounts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is clearly the biggest impact investor, and by a significant margin.