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Bill Gates, Ray Dalio & Paul Tudor Jones II discuss using metrics to maximize philanthropic impact.

On Tuesday, September 30, Robin Hood hosted a Learning Session in collaboration with the Giving Pledge — a movement launched by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010, encouraging the wealthiest families to give more than half their worth to charitable causes. Ray Dalio, one of the 127 signatories of the Giving Pledge, co-hosted this engaging and enlightening conversation focused on the role of metrics in philanthropy, and how individuals can use them to make more informed and effective charitable investments.

Those who have signed the Giving Pledge have publicly committed to contributing their personal wealth to tackle a variety of social, economic and environmental ills. The members of the Giving Pledge are focused on a wide range of issues including eradicating poverty in Appalachia, ending violence against women, improving education in developing countries, and supporting science and medical research, just to name but a few. While their charitable interests are diverse, the members of the Giving Pledge share a personal commitment to truly making a difference.

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The program, held at Robin Hood’s offices in New York City, consisted of three segments:

1) a panel on measurement and impact, with Bill Gates and Paul Tudor Jones, Robin Hood’s co-founder, moderated by Ray Dalio, founder of the Bridgewater Foundation;

2) a presentation on Robin Hood’s metrics-based approach to philanthropy designed by its chief economist Michael Weinstein; and

3) a panel discussion featuring three of Robin Hood’s grantees, Jodi Sturgeon, President of PHI International, Bob Hughes, President of New Visions, and Andrea Jung, CEO of Grameen America.

In philanthropy, the application of metrics, which has its roots in the for-profit sector, is not a 1:1 endeavor. However, Dalio pointed out, 90% of available data has been amassed over the last couple years. Considering the rise of technology, which makes data collection easier and more cost-efficient, the question for donors, then, is how to apply such data to the formation of goals and targeted outcomes, and how do you develop a clear roadmap to achieving desired, lasting change.

“I fundamentally believe and know that the ability to talk about our outcomes has allowed us to leverage other money from new donors, enabling us to expand our services.” — Jody Sturgeon, President, PHI International

Robin Hood’s Weinstein has an answer for that. Or, to be more accurate, one-hundred-sixty-three answers, the number of different formulas Robin Hood uses when evaluating grants (the formulas can be downloaded here). In his presentation, he emphasized the importance of identifying a clear mission statement, which can then be translated into operational terms.

When discussing how Robin Hood’s metrics-driven approach has challenged and improved their organizations, the grantees discussed how an open, ambitious two-way conversation between funder and grantee can make a substantial difference in defining success for the groups they serve. In the case of Grameen, which provides micro-financing to low-income women, Jung explained that lowering loan sizes from $3,000 to $1,500 — a move suggested by Robin Hood — allowed Grameen to reach the most in-need, women with annual incomes in the $10,000-$15,000 range.

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New Visions, which educates 47,000 students in 80 schools, has a six-person data team, that provided educators with tools and training they need to analyze student performance, diagnose problems, and design solutions to improve instruction, resulting in more students graduating each year. “With new data capacity, we are looking at what worked and what did not; this data will become a baseline for improvement,” he said, noting that New Visions started collecting data in 2001, the first results of which arrived in 2011 and continue to roll in.

All grantees agreed that the discipline of measurement can propel their organizations forward. For Jung, it helps identify where Grameen wants to have a greater impact. For Sturgeon, the information about cost-efficiency is critical in a publicly funded environment.

Honing the approach to outcomes helps in other ways, too. Sturgeon said, “I fundamentally believe and know that the ability to talk about our outcomes has allowed us to leverage other money from new donors, enabling us to expand our services.”

“Whether you chose to give to global health, the arts, medical research, or the environment, your giving has to be rooted in what you care about. Picking something you’re passionate about is an important precursor to having significant impact.” — Bill Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Yet the role of metrics, both Gates and Jones agreed, shouldn’t be the sole determining factor when it comes to deciding where to give. Gates explained, “Whether you chose to give to global health, the arts, medical research, or the environment, your giving has to be rooted in what you care about. Picking something you’re passionate about is an important precursor to having significant impact.”

And that’s perhaps the most important equation of all, one where both head (metrics) and heart (generosity) have a place.

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