Congratulations to Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan on their new baby girl, Max, and on their enormous charitable gift to launch the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). By now everyone has heard that the Chan Zuckerbergs announced they will give away 99 percent of their stock in Facebook during their lifetime to the new philanthropic initiative, a sum currently valued at $45 billion, and which will likely grow much larger in the decades to come. Their generosity and commitment to putting their billions to use while they're living sets an impressive example for other people of great wealth.
In an open letter to his daughter, Mark expressed that that he and his wife will be following an approach to philanthropy consistent with best practices that the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), which I lead, and others have been promoting for decades. These include making long-term investments in social change, engaging with the people and communities served to understand their needs, participating in public policy debates and advocacy, and taking big risks on visionary social change leaders.
But this is not enough to ensure that the billions in charitable giving from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will actually solve the tough issues they outlined in their letter: to advance human potential and promote equality. To succeed and have maximum impact, I offer five pieces of advice:
1. Be a serious funder of advocacy and community organizing - The Chan Zuckerbergs have already stated their intention to support policy and advocacy work. They should make it a cornerstone of their charitable giving and learn from other funders who have successfully invested in these high-leverage strategies. To be successful, the CZI must elevate and amplify the voices of those affected by injustice in debates about policy solutions. It must listen to marginalized communities and fund advocacy that speaks to their experiences and empower the oppressed to determine and implement the policies that will improve their lives. Zuckerberg is right that too many philanthropists hesitate to engage in advocacy, and his letter's mention of building movements for change is heartening. The CZI must follow through.
2. Share power - The CZI isn't yet fully formed, but initial reports indicate it will be controlled entirely by Zuckerberg himself, and his letter makes clear the priorities will be set by him and his wife. However, for the family's philanthropy to truly achieve its goals of advancing human potential and promoting equality, power must be shared. Concentrating authority in one person can lead to social change work that is nearsighted, narrowly focused and ultimately ineffective. Zuckerberg is no longer just the CEO of a multi-national corporation whose bottom line is his top priority. His work at the CZI will deal with important issues that affect everyone in society in profound ways. He must be willing to share his power with issue experts, philanthropic veterans and community leaders if he wants to effect long-term change.
3. Be transparent - American philanthropy has long been the target of mistrust from the public it serves, largely because philanthropic institutions concentrate power and money in private hands for public work. Philanthropists betray the public's trust and undercut their important work when they fail to be forthcoming about their goals, strategies and means. The CZI chose a very public birth - in more ways than one. We hope transparency is a core value throughout the Initiative's life. Because the CZI is incorporated as an LLC, Zuckerberg is allowed to be totally un-transparent if he wants. He should avoid that impulse and share openly with the public. He should share at least as much as would have been required by law if he had chosen instead to form a private foundation.
4. Learn from your mistakes - This isn't the first time the Chan Zuckerbergs' philanthropy has made headlines. In 2010, the family donated $100 million to Newark, New Jersey's struggling school system, a generous effort that has been largely marked a failure. The gift didn't create the transformational new teacher employment structure they had hoped for because the effort ignored the public policy reality in New Jersey that made it almost impossible to radically change teacher contracts. It didn't seed a vibrant, equitable charter school ecosystem in the city because Zuckerberg and his partners ran roughshod over community desires and needs. And it alienated grassroots activists, parents and teachers by channeling $20 million of the gift to expensive consultants while failing to follow through on promised teacher merit pay. Zuckerberg ought to remember these mistakes, and work to ensure the CZI doesn't repeat them.
5. Use a racial equity lens - Racial injustice is entrenched in the United States (and in many other countries where the CZI might work), and a movement is building to reckon with the structural racism that endangers and impoverishes communities of color. The CZI must incorporate a racial equity lens in their work to advance human potential and promote equality or its efforts on both will ultimately fall short. A failure to recruit and retain people of color has been an issue at Facebook for years; this blind spot must not be carried over to CZI's work. It's notable that the open letter announcing the gift never once mentions race.
The Chan Zuckerbergs welcomed new life into their family recently, with all the excitement and anxiety that comes with it. Like their daughter, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has terrific potential to do great things during its lifespan. I hope the Chan Zuckerberg family approaches their ambitious philanthropic endeavors with as much care and compassion as they undoubtedly will their new role as parents.
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Ryan Schlegel, research and policy associate at NCRP, contributed to this article. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.