On June 15, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made the unusual move of tweeting a “request for ideas” about how to direct his charitable giving. “I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now—short term—at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact,” wrote one of the world’s wealthiest men. “If you have ideas, just reply to this tweet with the idea (and if you think this approach is wrong, would love to hear that too).”
The tweet received ample media coverage and more than 40,000 replies on Twitter.
In this open letter, leaders of 18 community foundations from around the United States respond:
Dear Mr. Bezos,
We want to applaud you for seeking suggestions on your charitable giving. We admire your vow to help people “at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” And in that spirit, we urge you (and others) to partner with our nation’s community foundations.
We are in every community in the United States, including your hometown of Seattle. By listening to and working with our communities, we confront the challenges that affect the most vulnerable Americans: homelessness, poverty, racial inequity, climate change, barriers to education, and a lack of access to mental and behavioral healthcare, to name but a few.
Change comes from the bottom up. It comes from working with those we serve, and from joining with business, ordinary citizens, nonprofit groups, and government to make an impact. We cross borders, too. Through efforts like the Community Foundation Opportunity Network—which brings together more than 40 foundations that are working to bridge the opportunity gap between more and less privileged youth—we share ideas and resources to make a real difference.
Community foundations rely on the generosity of donors past, present, and future—everyone from taxi drivers to entrepreneurs like yourself who want to make their money work for the greater good. Our investments provide health care, after-school programs, parks, and services for tens of millions of men, women, and children.
We are a cross-section of the United States. We represent a range of nonprofits, and views from across the political spectrum. We have practical ideas about how to help our neighbors, now and in lasting ways.
Consider how your philanthropy alone could make a difference in communities across the nation: An investment of $10 billion could fund endowments of $100 million in 100 community foundations. Those endowments could distribute $5 million per year in each of these communities forever—and drive real change now and for centuries to come.
We invite you to get to know us and explore this idea. Let’s talk.
Sherrie Armstrong, president and CEO, The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia
Ellen M. Gilligan, president and CEO, Greater Milwaukee Foundation
William W. Ginsberg, president and CEO, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Ellen M. Katz, president and CEO, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation
Maxwell King, president and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation
Douglas F. Kridler, president and CEO, The Columbus Foundation
Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation
Christine Márquez-Hudson, president and CEO, Denver Foundation
Terry Mazany, president and CEO, Chicago Community Trust
Tony Mestres, president and CEO, Seattle Foundation
Richard Ober, president and CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
Michael Parks, president, The Dayton Foundation
Alicia Philipp, president, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Ronn Richard, president and CEO, Cleveland Foundation
David J. Scullin, president and CEO, Communities Foundation of Texas
Steven G. Seleznow, president and CEO, Arizona Community Foundation
Lorie A. Slutsky, president, New York Community Trust
Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO, Rhode Island Foundation