If you had $1 million to give away, how should you spend it?
This is the simple guiding question behind the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. Housed at the School of Social Policy & Practice, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy was established in 2006 by SP2 Dean Richard Gelles and a group of anonymous Wharton alumni who were “frustrated,” according to Katherina Rosqueta, a 2001 Wharton MBA graduate and CHIP’s founding executive director.
The problem, according to Rosqueta, was that there was previously no way for philanthropists to determine how they should allocate their finite resources.
“They were looking for information they could trust that was independent which would have results,” Rosqueta said. She recalls that they were wondering, “Why, in something that matters so much, do we not have any information?”
CHIP was founded to conduct research on which philanthropic initiatives truly work, and for the last seven years it has sought to provide information to high-impact donors — that is, in Rosqueta’s words, donors who are “trying to make a difference in the world.”
But solving the “million dollar” question is actually quite a complex task.
“It’s a really important question to answer and the reason why it hasn’t been answered before is that it’s not obvious how you answer that question well,” Rosqueta said. “The answers are in lots of different places.”
For this reason, CHIP’s founding team members hailed from all different academic backgrounds.
“None of us had the same training,” said Rosqueta, who noted that she personally drew on her background at Wharton and at McKinsey & Company, where she worked for five years before returning to Penn, to help her approach problems that previously had ambiguous solutions.
Because of her management of such a diverse team in an organization devoted to social impact, Rosqueta was awarded the Kathleen McDonald Distinguished Alumna Award during the 14th annual Wharton Women in Business Conference in October. This was the only award delivered during the conference, which drew a crowd of more than 400 women.
Jennifer Ciullo, a second-year Wharton MBA student and co-chair of the conference, said that Rosqueta was an “easy choice” for this year’s Distinguished Alumna award. According to Ciullo, the designee of the award is decided based on considerations of career success, leadership in one’s community and family life.
Of particular interest to the selection committee was the fact that Rosqueta had incorporated the skills she learned in the private sector to be successful in the world of social impact. This was pertinent to a central theme of the conference: the blurring lines between for-profit business and social impact.
“I think [social impact] is ingrained in every business and every company,” Ciullo said. “Business and social impact are not mutually exclusive anymore.”
Carol McLaughlin, CHIP’s research director, noted that the center’s research topics are driven by two questions.
“We choose topics to focus on based on a combination of unmet social needs to be addressed, donor interest and demand and areas where we can leverage our resident expertise and that of our networks inside and out of Penn,” she said in an email.
CHIP’s previous research has broached topics such as childhood education in the United States, funding of malaria initiatives and investment in long-term impact programs in Haiti.
CHIP also produces a “Holiday Giving” guide once annually, given that a large percentage of charitable giving normally occurs between Thanksgiving and the end of the calendar year.
“This time of year is probably the largest time that [individual donors] will give,” McLaughlin said. “Around November and December we try to make sure that our message gets out to them.”
Although the center targets individual donors with a high net-worth, many of its findings are relevant to individuals who make even very small donations.
“Whether they’re giving $25 away or $2 million away, we found that the same information is helpful to them,” McLaughlin said.