Back in April, I wrote about the Smart Money Award concept that an ad hoc team I was part of had thrown together during a Monitor Institute meeting. The concept won first prize at the informal idea contest and so our team decided to make the Smart Money Award real. I described the award in a post:
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.
I’m now happy to announce that the Smart Money Award has a website and has announced the first official recipient chosen from the nominations we’ve received to date.
Here’s the press release from Smart Money Award.
First Bi-Monthly Smart Money Award Winner: the McKnight Foundation
Last Sunday, June 26th, marked a little-known but very important date in philanthropy. It was the anniversary of the announcement of Warren Buffett’s 2006 gift of over $31 billion to the Gates Foundation—perhaps the single largest act of followership that the field of philanthropy has known. In a field of “leaders,” Buffett’s gift recognized that sometimes the best way to demonstrate leadership is actually to follow the good work of others.
With the spirit of Buffett’s gift in mind, we are pleased to use the anniversary of his largesse to mark the announcement of the winner of the new Smart Money Award, a bi-monthly* recognition given to the most important acts of followership in the field of philanthropy.
The winner for this first period is the McKnight Foundation, for the powerful act of following represented by its $100 million commitment to three re-granting institutions that are leading the effort against climate change: ClimateWorks, the Energy Foundation, and RE-AMP. The McKnight Foundation, after thinking rigorously about the challenging task of affecting climate change, decided it would be most effective to forego acting alone and instead join the efforts of others already in progress.
The McKnight Foundation had long worked with the Energy Foundation in its efforts to promote alternative energy in the Midwest. And when McKnight’s Board of Directors saw Design to Win, the 2007 report that laid out a comprehensive plan for tackling climate change, they were moved to make a gesture that was quite extraordinary for a foundation of McKnight’s scale and focus. The Foundation committed to provide $100 million over five years through three established intermediaries to help implement the Design to Win plan. The Board felt that there was no need to reinvent the wheel, given the urgency of the situation, the existence of partners that they trusted, and a plan with a clear and compelling logic.
McKnight’s vice president of program Neal Cuthbert explains it quite simply: “We have a long history of working with established intermediaries to try to put decisions in the hands of the people closest to the work. We often find that the best thing we can do is to support smart people who know what they’re doing and get out of the way.”
In receiving the Smart Money Award, the McKnight Foundation is the second organization to be selected as a winner for an honor that 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. Followership is a way to make smarter investments, and the Smart Money Award committee feels that McKnight’s commitment to ClimateWorks, the Energy Foundation, and RE-AMP is an ideal example of that.
As McKnight’s Cuthbert points out, “This is a field where the necessity of authorship is so high that it often gets in the way of so much good work. So on behalf of the McKnight Foundation, we’re honored to win the Award.”
One of the goals of the Smart Money Award is to remove any stigma associated with the concept of following, and to instead highlight how it can be a powerful “next practice” in philanthropy. The idea was developed at the Monitor Institute’s Future of Philanthropy workshop. The inaugural Smart Money Award, given out at the workshop, went to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its $16.5 million grant to the Buffett Early Childhood Fund’s initiative to improve education for children from troubled families.
Every other month a new Smart Money Award winner will be selected, and each of the funders’ stories will be posted on our website to promote the powerful impact that following can have in the world of philanthropy. Then, at the end of each year, on June 26th, a funder (selected from the bi-monthly winners) will receive the Annual Smart Money Award.
We are always taking nominations for individuals or foundations that exemplify the act of following and welcome your submissions (which are rolled over after each month). If you know of other great examples of followership in philanthropy, we’d love to hear about them. Please let us know by nominating them!
You can follow us on Twitter @smartmoneyaward
*We mean every other month, not twice a month. How is it helpful to have a word mean both every other month and twice a month? It just seems like you’re asking for confusion.