This document provides guidance to the Trustees and Management of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with respect to our intent in establishing the Foundation. Since it is impossible to predict the future with any certainty, the guidance cannot be very specific, but rather gives a general idea of our goals and aspirations.
Why we created the foundation
Betty and I established the Foundation because we believe it can make a significant and positive impact in the world. We want the Foundation to tackle large, important issues at a scale where it can achieve significant and measurable impacts. The Foundation’s ability to take risks and make long-term and relatively large commitments should allow it to undertake challenges not accessible to many other organizations. We seek durable change, not simply delaying consequences for a short time. Betty and I believe that science and the type of rigorous inquiry that guides science are keys to achieving the outcomes we want. Scientific methodology should be a cornerstone of nearly all of the Foundation’s efforts.
How we want the foundation to approach problem solving
It is critical that the Foundation is clear on how it believes it can make a difference in the programmatic areas where it invests. There are several huge problems facing the world today and we are sure that more will arise in the future. Many of these are of a scope and complexity too large for this Foundation to take head on. In these areas, the Foundation may not be able to make significant impact and Betty and I don’t want the Foundation to just support good intentions. For example, global climate change and the crisis in primary education might be two of the most important challenges of our time, and that makes it tempting to address them. However, unless the Foundation can satisfy itself that it has the capacity and resources to be a significant factor in bringing about measurable, durable solutions to an important subset of these kinds of intractable problems, the Foundation should forego investment.
The Foundation should take advantage of its ability to focus its efforts and flexibility to move resources from less-productive areas to areas of higher impact. Such changes should be carefully considered and deliberate so as not to jerk the grantees around, to preserve progress the Foundation has accomplished, and to prevent unplanned mission drift. The Foundation must not take on too many programs at once causing it to operate at an insufficient scale to make an important difference.
How we intend the foundation to operate
This is a grantmaking foundation, not an operating foundation. The Foundation should have an independent perspective and proactively choose its programs, strategies and goals, and then select the best grantees to do the work, rather than respond to unsolicited proposals. The Foundation selects and coordinates with individuals and organizations that have good ideas and the ability to execute, and funds them to accomplish the job. The Foundation is critically dependent on capable grantees and should work with them as respected experts in their fields. Emphasis should be on supporting programs with measurable outcomes rather than undirected institutional support.
To gain valuable perspective and adapt and learn, there should be regular reviews of the Foundation’s work by outside experts. These assessments must be independent, credible and impartial, and shared without filtering with the program staff, Foundation management and the Board.
There are many important things that can be done to make the world a better place where the Foundation can show leadership. These should be the areas where the Foundation focuses. Betty and I do not want the Foundation to aspire to be one of the pack pursuing the latest fad, but rather to find and address important under-resourced opportunities.
What Areas of Interest We Chose
We chose the original areas of interest (environmental conservation, scientific research, higher education and the San Francisco Bay Area) because of our special involvement in these areas prior to the formation of the Foundation, as well as the great opportunities they represent.
Our interest in environmental conservation stems from our personal observations of changes in the natural world and from the dependency of all living species on the planet’s health. During our lifetimes we have observed the transformation of much of what was natural wilderness to highly-developed property. Jungles have become golf courses; beaches, condominium developments; and the oceans have been overfished and become garbage dumps. With these changes, precious ecosystem functions are lost, often forever. Huge areas of the planet are in danger of having their basic structure altered as a consequence of development and exploitation of resources. The Foundation should seek pragmatic solutions that maintain the integrity of essential ecosystem functions while accommodating necessary development and other activity.
Our support of science stems from Gordon’s background and interests. Expanding knowledge is both intellectually satisfying and often of practical value. The rate of expansion of knowledge can be increased by funding potentially high-impact areas that do not fit conventional funding sources. The Foundation’s science funding also helps research universities to excel and train the next generation of scientists. Many opportunities exist, both in areas of immediate potential practical application and in pure expansion of knowledge. Both areas can be accelerated by carefully targeted private funding. Here many good opportunities develop as conventional science funding agencies shrink and become increasingly risk-averse.
After the Foundation started it soon became apparent that higher education was closely connected with our science interests. It was determined that it did not make sense to have higher education as a separate funding area.
With respect to the Bay Area, we spent most of our lives here and want to help preserve the area’s special character. Even with a local geographic focus we still envision the same results-oriented strategic principles be applied in a regional context. Again, opportunities abound and the Foundation must be selective.
Betty’s interest in health care and her poor hospital experiences led the Foundation to undertake an effort to improve nursing with the goal of better patient outcomes. This successful initiative led to venturing further into patient care. So long as the Foundation can identify opportunities for meaningful improvement, it should consider continuing and evolving the patient care program. However the magnitude of health care is so large and complex, the Foundation must be careful to limit its involvement to where it can make a unique contribution.
While Betty and I anticipate that these original areas of interest will likely continue to present important opportunities for the Foundation to make a difference and show leadership for many generations to come, we also recognize that the future can change the landscape of problems and opportunities considerably. Since there is little chance that all the important issues will ever be addressed, the Foundation has been established to function in perpetuity, or as long as its resources remain sufficient to make a significant difference. In recognition of the fact that needs and opportunities will change over time, we wish to give the Trustees sufficient latitude to keep the Foundation relevant but hope that this will not result in premature abandonment of successful programs.
What Areas We Wish to Avoid
The Foundation is exposed to a multitude of opportunities to fund. It is the richness of philanthropy that there are organizations that choose to pursue different ideas and issues. Defining what a particular foundation will not fund is extremely helpful to grantees and staff.
In addition to legal requirements, some of the areas the Foundation should avoid are the following:
- Religious activities or purposes
- Art and other cultural activities
- Civil disobedience
- Retroactive funding for activities or projects that have already taken place
- Buildings and general endowments not directly related to our programs
- As a general practice, refrain from funding emergency or disaster relief efforts
How to Determine Whether to Give Foundation Support: The Four Filters
Determining what the Foundation might support requires thoughtful analysis. To evaluate possible ideas, programmatic activities and any significant potential endeavors, the Foundation should employ the following questions that define our style of philanthropy:
- Is it important? Successfully addressing the issue will result in large positive benefit or avoidance of substantial negative consequences.
- Can we make an enduring difference? Significant enduring impact can be achieved that would not be achieved without Foundation support.
- Is it measurable? To track progress and confirm outcomes, measurement against goals is necessary. It is often difficult to implement, but key to our quantitative approach to philanthropy.
- Does it contribute to a portfolio effect? Synergy can increase impact and a portfolio can decrease risks.
The first three questions must be answered positively for an acceptable program, strategy or any other significant endeavor. If it is not important or if the Foundation cannot make a difference, the Foundation should not do it. If the Foundation cannot measure the outcomes, how does it know if it has accomplished anything? The portfolio effect can enhance the Foundation’s impact beyond that of isolated efforts and should be viewed as an additional benefit.
It is our hope that if Betty or I were to return to the Foundation in a decade, a century or a millennium, while the issues the Foundation is working on might be different, the Foundation would be recognizable to us – that it would continue to be innovative, intellectually rigorous, take risks, operate efficiently, exercise humility, and remain focused on measurable results.
We hope these comments help the Trustees and Foundation management in navigating the plethora of possible programs. We recognize that the world is changing rapidly and that it is impossible to predict very far into the future how it will evolve. In the long run we are dependent on the wisdom of the Trustees to guide the work of the Foundation.
We really appreciate your dedication.
Gordon E. Moore and Betty I. Moore
January 30, 2015