American philanthropists have always been interested in the well-being of people around the world, not just in their own country. Much of American foundations’ international grantmaking has historically been to benefit poor and marginalized people abroad. But between 2003 and 2013 state-side grantmaking to benefit marginalized people worldwide expanded dramatically. In absolute terms, almost four times as many dollars were given in 2013 to benefit underserved communities abroad than in 2003. Whereas domestic grantmaking for underserved communities grew 18 percent as a share of all grantmaking, international underserved communities funding grew 63 percent. This growth was, more than any other type of grantmaking measured by NCRP’s analysis, dominated by a small group of funders. Fully 65 percent of all international underserved communities grantmaking came from just one funder: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And 31 percent more came from 100 other funders, for a total share of 96 percent.
Surely these foundations deserve praise for investing in communities in need across the globe and doing so with such generosity and leadership. But they also deserve scrutiny. U.S. philanthropy abroad employs tax-subsidized dollars in pursuit of the common good, but it is also an expansion of American power beyond our borders, for better and for worse. Ninety-six percent of this power was between 2003 and 2013 held by the staff, executives and directors of just 100 foundations.
Further, these foundations warrant scrutiny in the coming decade, as many of them ought to be among the leaders of a renewed push to invest in and better the lives of America’s marginalized communities. This need not be an “either/or” proposition. Foundations that have demonstrated a commitment to prioritizing the needs of underserved communities abroad can be expected to demonstrate a similar strategic preference with their domestic grantmaking.