If future generations could vote on how foundations invest their money today, would they choose the current allocation?
Only 5 percent of U.S. foundation spending goes to the environment, and a paltry 2.9 percent goes to science and technology. Of the top 50 foundation grantees in 2004, only three were environmental organizations.
Even those foundations that do work on ecosystems spend much of their resources on small-scale land conservation. Government priorities are also skewed to the here and now. As the Oct. 30, 2006, New York Times reports, U.S. federal spending on energy research
has fallen to $3 billion – less than half of its level in 1980 – while spending on medical research has quadrupled to $28 billion over the same period.
Human-caused climate change, sharply declining conventional energy sources, and population growth are threatening the very platform of human life. Yet fully two-thirds of U.S. foundation spending goes to current human health and well-being, and seven of
the 10 largest U.S. foundations concentrate on human health or the arts, according to the Foundation Center’s latest statistics (from 2004). The world’s second largest foundation (Stichting Ingka, the IKEA fortune) focuses on interior design.
A management problem that keeps foundations preoccupied with the present is their lack of coordination with other organizations. With family control of many foundation boards and disparate and idiosyncratic board agendas, coordination for achieving bigger
aims is structurally difficult.