The College Donor Digest

From the Bookshelf: Money Well Spent

May 13, 2021 | Rebecca Richards

Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy by Paul Brest and Hal Harvey 

Released in 2018, the second edition of Money Well Spent by Paul Brest, former president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Hal Harvey, the CEO of an energy and environmental policy firm, offers a comprehensive view of philanthropy in the United States. By examining the successes and failures of philanthropists in the past century, the authors provide donors with several ways to evaluate their goals and vision. 

The book is divided into five parts that range from highly technical advice  to broader overviews of how philanthropy has effected change in American politics. The many case studies, analyses of trends, and variety of examples make for dense reading, but the message of Money Well Spent is timeless: know what you want to accomplish and have ways of measuring whether your philanthropy is accomplishing those goals.  

The book includes a series of chapters designed to help donors create a framework for their philanthropy, beginning with identifying the issue they want to address. The end of each chapter has actionable steps that can guide the process of narrowing down philanthropic goals, barriers, and desired outcomes.  

While the authors do not address higher education philanthropy specifically, and giving to colleges and universities comes with its own set of challenges, college donors will benefit from adopting the strategic mindset encouraged by Mr. Brest and Mr. Harvey.  

Applying Money Well Spent to Your Giving 

Paul Brest and Hal Harvey offer four useful steps to help develop a strategic plan for your philanthropy. Here are some thoughts on how those steps can be applied to higher education giving.   

Describe a social problem that interests you. The first step is to put a description down on paper. For example, you may be concerned about the erosion of free speech on campus, observing more and more students and professors being “canceled” for holding unpopular views.   

Get to the heart of the problem. It may help to imagine a conversation with a hypothetical, trusted colleague about your target issue. In this dialogue, your colleague should ask questions that focus on why your concern is a problem, such as, “Why is repressing speech detrimental for students and for society?”  

Write an effective problem description. You can use the above conversation to rewrite your original description with minimal empirical assumptions. If you do include empirical assumptions, think through what information is needed to prove or disprove them. An assertion like “Some colleges are actively infringing on the right of free speech on campus by disinviting speakers” can be proven by the numerous real-world examples of speaker disinvitations.  

Identify problem causes. With a deeper understanding of the problem itself, you can narrow down potentially significant causes and what level of resources would be needed to solve the issue. For instance, a college may be concerned about negative media attention if they allow a divisive speaker on campus. However, they might be open to a debate with speakers on both sides should the funding be offered. 

Mr. Brest and Mr. Harvey’s advice helpful when narrowing down philanthropic goals. Defining what you want to achieve with your gift is the first step in intelligent college giving. The Fund for Academic Renewal can help donors think through viable solutions to their concerns about higher education. Contact FAR to start a conversation. 


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