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Sense of Purpose

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Foundation’s ability to take risks and make long-term and relatively large commitments should allow it to undertake challenges not accessible to many other organizations.

–Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore

What happens when the founders of the nation’s ninth-largest private philanthropy want to clarify their sense of purpose? NCG members Gordon and Betty set out to let their organization know what’s important to them.

The couple, who founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation just fifteen years ago, publicly issued a Founders’ Intent letter to their website last week.

When The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted the letter, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, the Foundation’s President said “It provided basis for the entire staff to reacquaint ourselves with the founders’ intent.” The Moores say they value grantees as experts and want to continue supporting programs with measurable outcomes. They have generally funded scientific research, patient care, environmental and conservation projects, programs specific to the San Francisco Bay Area and will continue to carry on those traditions.

They specified areas they do not want to focus on and listed the four main filters they use when analyzing possible ideas and grantee projects:

  1. Is it important?
  2. Can we make an enduring difference?
  3. Is it measurable?
  4. Does it contribute to a portfolio effect?

The goal for this analysis is to increase synergy and decrease risks when evaluating potential endeavors.

The Foundation’s interests stem from personal backgrounds and passions of each founder and they want that keep those themes and criteria in the future even with an ever-changing Bay Area. The Moores finished the letter by stating, “It is our hope that if Betty or I were to return to the foundation in a decade, a century or a millennium, while the issues would be recognizable to us–that it would continue to be innovative, intellectually rigorous, take risks, operate efficiently, exercise humility, and remain focused on measurable results.”