“Investing in Philanthropy” by Judy Martel
Originally appeared in the Palm Beach Charity Register 2019-2020
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Audrey Gruss has dedicated her life to philanthropy, but her latest mission carries the highest expectation for a return because it’s the closest to her heart. Named in honor of her late mother, the Hope for Depression Research Foundation aims to bring various researchers together to uncover the origins of depression and, ultimately, find a cure. Gruss’ mother suffered most of her adult life from the debilitating illness. She established the foundation a year af¬ter her mother’s death in 2005, and today she can readily cite both its tangible and intangible results.
With the $5 million in annual grants from the foundation- which has offices in Palm Beach and New York- plus 100 percent of the net profits from the sale of the Hope fragrance line, researchers have dis¬covered that low levels of a particu¬lar compound in the blood may be an indication of depression. ln the near future, doctors may be able to detect depression with a blood test.
ln addition to these findings, Gruss believes her high-profile fundraising efforts have encouraged people to talk more openly about the illness. “It used to be you didn’t say the word ‘depression’ in polite society,” she says. A decade ago, most people with charitable inclinations gave to organizations or causes with the understanding that their money would be spent effectively. Now, donors aren’t content to be so passive and trusting. The new buzz word is philanthropy are “return on investment”, a concept that typically goes hand in hand with the accountability and results associated with monetary assets.
This notion originated with venture philanthropists who came out of the run-up in the stock market before the tech investment bubble burst, says Gene Tempel, founding dean emeritus and professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. In the late 1990s, new tech companies with intangible business models were commanding investor attention, delivering sky-high earning promises that were often unsustainable.
When the bubble burst in 2000, it left a wake of failed companies or evaporating returns. Eventually, the mentality regarding tracking valuations and results crept into the way people think about donating. In the past 10 years, Tempel says, donors have come to expect accountability and transparency from charitable groups. While they’re right to ask how their money is being used and to examine an organization’s financial health through regular reports, Tempel cautions them to take the long view, especially since the fruit of charitable donations can be intangible.
In some instances, results may take their time or prove difficult to calculate. An investment in early education may not show verifiable outcomes until those same students graduate from high school and college-entry rates are tallied. A small homeless shelter may be able to show list how many meals it serves each month but unable to determine the measurable psychological and physical effect on that population. Part of the joy of investing in philanthropy comes in these hard-earned wins that can reverberate across generations. More often than not, the satisfaction of seeing someone earn a college degree, enjoy the arts, or benefit from medical research is a sufficient return in itself.
Palm Beach Charity Register