How to give away a million dollars.

Who's giving, who's getting.
Nov. 10 2006 12:28 PM

How To Give Away a Million Dollars

Ideas from Nora Ephron, David Brooks, Jane Smiley, and others.

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If I had a million dollars, I would give it to Donald Graham so that he could afford health insurance for all his employees.  Don't you think that would be a worthy charity?

Lincoln Caplan, partner in SeaChange Capital Partners, a new nonprofit firm

What if my million could bring $5 million more of federal and local money to the nation's outstanding charter schools in inner cities and let them reward the schools' top principals and teachers who help to dramatically improve the achievement of students—in those schools and many public schools as well?
 
I'd contribute to the Effective Practice Incentive Fund, created by New Leaders for New Schools. It's a nonprofit venture that was launched in 2001 and has trained 332 school leaders in New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Memphis, Chicago, and the Bay area. In six years, it expects to be training one-fourth of the new principals needed in cities across the country. The new program supported by this fund goes well beyond training, though. Recognizing that principals and teachers must be at the center of efforts to improve achievement, it gives them a fresh set of tools and incentives to use them.   

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New Leaders seeks $13.3 million in private funds, of which it had raised $4.5 million as of Nov. 1, to match $58 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The grants come from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, set up "to support programs that develop and implement performance-based teacher and principal compensation systems in high-need schools." The 1-to-5 leverage occurs because an additional $8.6 million of other public funds has been committed for a total of $66.6 million.

New Leaders isn't undiscovered: It has previously received grants from the Broad, Dell, and Gates foundations, among others; last year, Fast Company magazine rated it America's outstanding social enterprise. But New Leaders still needs $8.8 million to complete the first phase of the Effective Practice Incentive Fund. My million would yield an immediate, high multiple.

The results of New Leaders exemplify what innovative philanthropists mean when they talk about the social benefits that come from requirements for performance. Some people are concerned that the success of programs like New Leaders is anti-democratic, because it relieves the public sector of responsibility for providing high-quality education. The nonprofit is demonstrating how the former can spur important reform in the latter.

Alan Dershowitz, professor, Harvard Law School

I would use my million dollars to start the world's first and only genuine human rights organization that prioritizes its resources in accordance with the seriousness of the violations and not the ideological bias of the organization. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other current organizations do not do this. They devote less proportional attention to real genocides such as those in Darfur and other parts of Africa than to the imperfections of Israel. The victims of this obsessive and disproportional focus on Israel are African and other real victims of genocide. This must change, and I would devote my money to trying to change it.

William Easterly, professor of economics, New York University

Doing good by giving money away is a lot harder than it seems, as the sad record of official aid abundantly shows. I think aid should seek to help individuals rather than pursue the illusion of transforming other societies. I would give away $1 million to fund scholarships for students from Africa to get bachelors' and graduate degrees in the world's best universities. Poor students would compete for scholarships based on merit, after which the scholarships just help students help themselves to develop their potential. The alumni can then hopefully form part of the next generation of political and business leaders in Africa.

Nora Ephron, author, I Feel Bad About My Neck and Crazy Salad