$15 Million Questions

A different kind of perpetuity

December 7, 2010

How would spending everything change your impact?

Since Quixote Foundation announced we will spend all of our endowment by 2017, the most frequent question has been “How did you decide ‘against perpetuity’?” The reality is we didn’t decide against perpetuity at all. We decided we could generate a more significant perpetual impact if we put all our assets into action now, in lieu of institutional immortality.

Spending up gives Quixote Foundation a chance to respond decisively, with more of our relatively small resources, to opportunities we believe will have a dramatic affect on the future. For example, from a $15 million endowment, we’ve recently committed $1,000,000 to Media Democracy Fund (MDF), which works with foundations and other donors to protect the public’s rights in the digital age—shaping policies now that will affect every single issue area for years to come.

Rules are being written right now that will dictate whether the Internet stays open for anyone to access information, communication, education, jobs, goods, and services ranging from health care to government functions. The Internet has developed into a basic necessity in the digital age, yet powerful companies are lobbying for the right to charge high fees for timely, reliable and complete access; and to increase their control over news, commentary and other content. If industry takes charge of the Internet, the damage to democratic society will be as sharp as if we’d reinstated a poll tax—letting the amount of money in our pockets determine who is, and isn’t, able to participate.

MDF makes wildly smart, strategic grants to protect the open Internet and for many other sound policies. It also connects people within the media field and with other movements, helps donors develop strategy together, and shares information to support each donor’s own direct grantmaking (all leading to more wildly smart, strategic grants toward better policies). If Quixote Foundation can team up with MDF to play an immediate policy role, strengthen the field of advocates and widen the pool of donors shaping future policy, our legacy will still be growing 20 years from now, with an impact exponentially greater than if we were still around.

Financially speaking, making a $1 million commitment certainly helps show Quixote Foundation the door, but we believe it’s a door leading into, not out of, our purpose as a foundation. If current media and communication policy decisions are wise, we’ll avoid enormous human and financial costs and create a platform for increased fairness in perpetuity.

No matter what spending choices you ultimately make, we’ve found immense value in asking three questions:

  • If you had to spend everything today to achieve your mission and realize the intent of all your programs, what issues and policies would you choose as the most pivotal?
  • In that context, does institutional perpetuity still look like the best way to create a perpetual impact?
  • How might your impact change if you were to spend more, or even spend everything?

We’d love to hear your thoughts: contact us via email or send a message to QuixoteTilts on Twitter.

—written by Keneta Anderson for Quixote Foundation