In 1988, Paul Jones, a 32-year-old money manager, founded the philanthropic foundation Robin Hood with $3 million and a mission to fight poverty in New York. He invited two close friends, Peter Borish and Glenn Dubin, to serve as co-founders and recruited David Saltzman to join as its founding executive director. From its inception, Robin Hood applied the investment experience of its founders to poverty prevention by “funding…the best community-based groups and partnering with them to maximize results.” The foundation focused on four core program areas: 1) early childhood and youth; 2) education; 3) jobs and economic security; and 4) survival. As a venture philanthropy pioneer, Robin Hood emphasized rigorous due diligence, direct engagement with grantees and social outcomes assessment. Robin Hood provided grantees with financial contributions, management guidance and technical assistance. The organization’s board members demonstrated their own commitment to high engagement philanthropy by contributing both time and money to support Robin Hood’s grantmaking and internal administration. The board covered all infrastructure costs, ensuring that 100% of external donations went directly to grantmaking. Robin Hood did not have an endowment but maintained a reserve fund that covered existing grantee costs for at least a year. By 2005, Robin Hood was the largest private poverty-fighting organization in New York City, and its venture philanthropy model had inspired foundations and funding intermediaries nationwide. Nonetheless, Robin Hood wanted to have an even greater impact and reach the 1.7 million New Yorkers still living in poverty. To achieve this, the management team worked to both improve application of best practices and metrics to grantmaking decisions and share its knowledge base more widely with grantees and the greater philanthropic community.
Venture philanthropy (high-impact model), donor-direct engagement, grantee due diligence, metrics and assessment.