King Philanthropies: Intentional Choices for Maximum Impact

By William Meehan III, Sheila Melvin
2019 | Case No. SI151 | Length 23 pgs.

King Philanthropies (KP) was a grant-making organization that employed a highly intentional and carefully targeted approach to philanthropy. It was guided by relentless pursuit of its mission: to alleviate extreme poverty by magnifying the impact of high-performing leaders and organizations.

In early 2018, the KP board had expressed enthusiasm for creating a grants initiative in India. However, as KP Portfolio Director Cindy Chen and her team started doing diligence on organizations in India, they found a number of challenges when it came to the pipeline of potential grantees. Indeed, the vast majority of organizations were small, working in only a few communities across just one or two of India’s 29 states and 7 union territories.

Equally problematic, few of the organizations they looked at in India had a demonstrated capacity to scale across the country, or even interventions that were scalable. This mattered because KP, for reasons both practical and philosophical, focused on organizations that could scale their impact.

Additional concerns from the KP board regarded the extent of corruption in India, and the impact this might have on philanthropic endeavors. There were also some questions as to need. India, at that moment in time, had more people living in extreme poverty than any other country in the world. But this number was declining rapidly even as the number of extreme poor in sub-Saharan Africa rose.

These discussions were crucial for a highly intentional, mission-driven philanthropy. But they also created something of a quandary for Chen, who had joined KP as a consultant in 2016 and become portfolio director in September 2017. The choice she faced seemed to be two-fold. She could recommend that KP forego investing in India and instead expand its investment in Africa, or she could continue the search for high-impact, scalable organizations in India.

This case tracks Chen’s thought processes as she reflected on KP, its mission, and its existing portfolio; considered the options; and decided which option to recommend to the KP board when it met to make this critical funding decision that could impact the lives of millions of people.

Learning Objective

To understand the evidence-based approach to philanthropic decision-making, using extreme poverty alleviation as an example.

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