A couple of billionaires offer money to an unusual beneficiary: philanthropic foundations

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A top tech billionaire couple today made an unusual promise: to offer money to expand programs started by foundations that see early success.

Open Philanthropy, a grantmaking effort started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, said today it will offer challenge grants totaling $150 million to up to five donors.

The challenge is open to foundations working on climate change, economic development, and health in the United States and around the world. Open Philanthropy did not provide more specific guidance on approaches within these broad categories.

“Those are the three big buckets here that could encompass a wide range of activities that we don’t currently fund or are not particularly familiar with,” said Michael Levine, spokesman for the effort. “We want to add to the excellence of grantmaking. This is already happening in these regions.

The idea is that Open Philanthropy, which has a wide range of grantmaking program areas, including artificial intelligence, criminal justice, and farmed animal welfare, may miss opportunities to generate social change, says Levine. By adding dollars to foundation programs already underway, Open Philanthropy can broaden its understanding of how to make philanthropy more effective, he says.

In some ways, the approach is reminiscent of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change challenge.

After MacArthur vanquished in 2015 the number of programs he supports, he earmarked $100 million for Successive Challenges to support social change efforts in areas outside of his expertise. 100&Change and its nonprofit spin-off Lever of Change are two of many “big bet” philanthropic efforts created in recent years.

To be eligible for the Open Philanthropy Challenge, foundations must have committed $10 million per year for at least three years to the program they believe would benefit from increased support. The goal, Levine says, is to double grantmaking capacity for up to five organizations for three years. But fewer winners could be selected and eligible for larger grants.

Open Philanthropy leaders will make the selections; Levine said no external advisory group was involved in the process. Foundations must provide Open Philanthropy with an expression of interest by March 15, a process expected to take less than two hours and will be used to weed out applicants who don’t meet the challenge guidelines, Levine says.

We don’t want to waste their time with a lengthy application if it turns out that they just don’t meet some basic criteria,” he says.

In a more formal application to follow, applicants will be asked to provide more information about the history of their grantmaking efforts and early impact. The 10 finalists Open Philanthropy chooses in August will be required to submit further documentation to outline why an infusion of cash would help their efforts, and Open Philanthropy will interview philanthropy staff.

Rewards will be paid out through one of the donation vehicles set up and largely funded by Moskovitz and Tuna. They include the Open Philanthropy Project, the Open Philanthropy Project LLC, which is privately held, and the Open Philanthropy Project Fund, a fund advised by the donors of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

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