Announcing the Smart Money Award

The Inaugural Smart Money AwardDuring the Monitor Future of Philanthropy workshop, the attendees broke into small groups to rapidly prototype an innovation that could help propel some of the themes discussed in the workshop. The group that I was a part of ended up winning the prize for best innovation. Given that the winning entry from last year’s workshop went on to be incorporated into a program of the Rockefeller Foundation (see clarification), my group thought that we’d keep running with our idea and continue to build it on the fly.

So today, I’m happy to announce the Smart Money Award.

The Smart Money Award is about bringing recognition and praise to funders who are willing to embrace the idea that sometimes, in order to maximize your impact, it is best to “follow what works.” The award celebrates funders that decide to lead by following the good work of others, helping to scale up or replicate an already proven initiative developed by someone else. We hope to remove any stigma associated with the concept of following, and instead highlight how it can be a powerful “next practice” in philanthropy.

“Smart Money” and “Following” are concepts I believe are powerful, but missing, elements in philanthropy. I blogged about my view on these concepts in a post titled Signaling, Smart Money & Philanthropy.

At the workshop, we awarded the first Smart Money Award to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their $16 million grant to support a project of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund. Commenting on the grant at the time it was made, Kellogg president Sterling Speirn said he “saw no reason to start from scratch when a good approach to advocacy and education was already in place.”

In announcing the award at the workshop, we gave the certificate pictured above and a check for $50 to Kellogg vice president Anne Mosle who explained the rationale behind the grant saying “we don’t believe we have to lead everything.”

Now obviously we had fun with this. But we are quite serious about the award. We believe that “following” can actually be an act of true leadership, as is so compelling demonstrated in this video:

Link to “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy”.

So where do we go from here? Our plan is to launch a simple website explaining the award and soliciting nominations for future awardees as soon as possible. Our goal is to announce the next award on June 26, the anniversary of the announcement of Warren Buffett’s 2006 gift of over $31 billion to the Gates Foundation—perhaps the largest act of philanthropic “followership” ever made.

I’ll keep you updated on this project as we move forward. Keep in mind that this was something that we hatched in about 45 minutes in a group of people who for the most part didn’t know each other. But the audience members at the Monitor workshop did chip in another $50 to fund our next award. So we’ll keep operating under the assumption that we’ll find what we need along the way and see what happens!

The informal working group designing the Smart Money Award:

  • Sean Stannard-Stockton, Tactical Philanthropy Advisors
  • Lance Fors, SV2
  • Gabriel Kasper, Monitor Group
  • Kelvin Taketa, Hawaii Community Foundation
  • Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation
  • Eugene Kim, Blue Oxen Associates
  • Edward Wexler-Beron, Monitor Group
  • Bob Hughes, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


  1. At 5 for Fairness, we are both something new (an online grantmaking community dedicated to supporting organizations that foster fairness for girls) and big believers in “following what works.” We believe that there are plenty of great organizations doing great work. Our job is to support and sustain their work until the world, finally, tilts toward fairness.

    Hope you’ll let us know when you launch your site…


  2. Gabriel Kasper says:

    A clarification on your post… the strategy mapping tool that we’ve created with the Rockefeller Foundation over the last year didn’t come out of an earlier Institute workshop, but in fact from a consulting engagement where we used a deliberate “innovation” process at RF–similar to what you experienced in brief at the March 25 Future of Philanthropy workshop–to identify and develop new practices and tools that can help the foundation, and other funders, to work in new ways.

  3. Sorry about that Gabriel. I didn’t realize that the prototyping session that spurred the Rockefeller program was in a private consultation with them. I’ve noted the correction in the body of this post.

  4. Paul Shoemaker says:

    This was an interesting and insightful post about the importance of the first follower and early adopters. I’m also encouraged by the idea of recognizing it publicly. I’m cautiously optimistic that such practice might actually catch on as there are other organizations out there supporting similar efforts. One example is the National Association of County and City Health Officials who annually recognize Model Practices ( to encourage health departments to replicate what works rather than reinvent the wheel.

    Still, I’m curious to hear if you think the idea can have legs in an environment where most organizations seem to be attracted more to the idea of being an innovator or funding “the next big thing” rather than a proven model. After all, I know I’m not the only one reading this site who’s read hundreds of grant RFPs over the years containing ranking criteria on “uniqueness of approach” or similar.

    Looking forward to seeing a link to the award page and a nomination form soon.

  5. Thanks so much Paul. We’re working as fast as we can!