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Making Contributions That Matter

December 29, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. - Big charitable foundations that give money to improve education don't always succeed in doing so. In a study of more than 670 foundations, many that donate in the Northwest, only 11 percent spent at least half of their education dollars on students in under-served populations, and even fewer focused on long-term solutions to problems in education.

Study author Kevin Welner says foundations need to spend more time getting to know the people and communities their grants will be helping – and doing more research on what really works – before they write the check.

"It's a very collaborative effort - and that's extremely important, because we've seen so many examples of philanthropists who have good intentions, and come in with top-down ideas that make no sense at the local level."

The study is from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Welner, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says effective philanthropy is more important now than ever, because it helps to even the odds between rich and poor – and not just in education.

"If we have such an extremely unequal distribution of resources, then we pretty much have an extremely unequal distribution of political power. But what philanthropies can do, is be extraordinarily powerful in helping vulnerable communities to have a voice."

The Nike Foundation in Portland and the Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle were two of only nine in the country that met the study criteria for effective investments in education reform. The report is online at www.ncrp.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR