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The holiday season always prompts a lot of festive giving, but that doesn’t change the fact that over the long term, charity from everyday Americans is trending down and has been for a while. Simultaneously, surging wealth at the top is fostering an environment where major donors rule the roost even more than before.

Taken together, these trends don’t bode well for the democratization of philanthropy—always a long-shot cause, and now even more so in this age of wealth inequality.

We’ve seen some hand-wringing over small donor decline lately, in the form of a new Generosity Commission, whose mission to re-energize American civil society—through research, naturally—was met with some skepticism. We’ve also seen that despite their growing predominance as donors, the assets of the richest are still rising far faster than their giving. But if the wealthiest do give more, which they should, must we kiss farewell to all hopes of a less plutocratic sector?

That’s a catch-22 with no easy answer. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t places we can look for the inklings of one. Take #RedefineGifting. On its face, the holiday-themed campaign seems like yet another yuletide charity initiative, complete with festive branding, a sleek digital servicer and even celebrity endorsers. Yet the campaign is notable because of who’s doing the giving.

On one hand, there’s billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio. He has provided most of the money for #RedefineGifting with several $1 million donations, including one this year. Then there’s a round of big names from business and entertainment who’ve furnished the campaign with additional resources—Reed Hastings, Paul Tudor Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, Dr. Mehmet Oz and others.

But instead of giving the money to nonprofits themselves, Dalio and the other benefactors work through a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called TisBest, which offers out the money to the public in the form of charitable gift cards given in lieu of traditional holiday gifts. Recipients of the cards can then direct the money to the nonprofit of their choice.

Dalio funded last year’s campaign with an initial $1 million donation, paying for 10,000 $100 gift cards. “The actual response blew us away. Every last card was claimed in just 90 minutes,” a TisBest writeup reads. Dalio and the other donors decided to fund a second round, and 30,000 gift cards ended up going out, totaling over $2 million.

This year, a $1 million donation from Dalio will pay for 20,000 gift cards, worth $50 each. According to TisBest, the money could end up with any of “more than 1.5 million U.S.-registered charities.”

Both TisBest’s campaign branding and Dalio’s own framing remain squarely within the spirit of holiday generosity. The whole idea originated as a way to redirect what TisBest’s founders saw as a wasteful accumulation of holiday “stuff” toward something more socially beneficial and sustainable. Dalio is very much on board with that. “With #RedefineGifting, my hope is that this great kind of gift will catch fire and replace some of the wasteful giving that happens each year,” he said in a press release.

For the time being, it doesn’t look like Dalio or the other funders see this as something worth scaling up beyond the holidays. But imagine if that did happen. It’s a rather neat way to reconcile big donor bulk, small donor decline, and the democratization problem all at once, and living in the digital age makes it a relative cinch for platforms like TisBest to administer.

Charitable gift cards aren’t a brand-new idea. TisBest is one of a number of nonprofits offering the public a chance to “give the gift of giving.” But having a big donor like Dalio come in and bankroll the cards in their thousands is a development with few precedents.

It’s a notable act of trust on the part of Dalio, who is not only trusting members of the public with the money, but also trusting whatever nonprofits they choose. It stands in stark contrast to the tightly wound, top-down grantmaking we’re all used to. And it’s certainly more democratic.

As for Dalio himself, it’s a bit hard to pin him down. He made his billions at Bridgewater Associates, which he founded in the 1970s, and is now among the nation’s wealthiest hedge fund managers. But like fellow philanthropic financier George Soros, Dalio is hardly an economic conservative. He’s been critical of American capitalism, favoring the reform of a system he says is “not working well for most Americans.” In a manifesto from late last year, the self-described “economic engineer” called for “[raising] more from the top via taxes that would be engineered to not have disruptive effects on productivity.”

Through Dalio Philanthropies, the investor and his family support an eclectic mix of causes, including education, environment and community development. Dalio is also a longtime China dove and advocate for engagement with the superpower, a stance that has earned him some criticism.

Whether it came from Dalio or not, some kind of expanded version of #RedefineGifting would be, if nothing else, an interesting experiment in participatory giving from a different angle. Funded by a billionaire (or several), it also raises more questions—like why not just pay more taxes, or simply give people cash?

There’s also the consideration that most of the cash likely ends up in the hands of established, well-recognized charities, not smaller grassroots efforts. One could imagine ways to fine-tune the process, such as giving the cards to specific demographic groups or residents of a particular city or town. But in the end, a measure of trust is necessary, and the donor needs to be comfortable with some of the money going to charities they might not support themselves.

Finally, in a hypothetical world where this practice becomes widespread, do professional grantmaking staff still have a place? It’s a question that’s relevant to most forms of participatory grantmaking. But program officers likely have little to fear. This kind of thing is still very much an outlier, and where big donors are concerned, trust is still hard to come by.

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