Poster Paper: Science Philanthropy and Science Policy: A Case of Donor Funded Research Centers

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Emily Nwakpuda, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The broader impacts of science funded by philanthropic investments is largely unknown. Individual high net-worth donors investments in scientific and technological disciplines are typically overshadowed when aggregated with other forms of philanthropy. High net-worth donors practice their own due diligence when making philanthropic investments in science. The mixed philanthropic investment styles of high net-worth donors, including venture philanthropists, is difficult to consider when their investments in science are aggregated.

A unique database of philanthropic investments in science from 1995 to 2017 was developed using machine learning methods to capture multi-million dollar gifts to scientific disciplines at US universities. Research centers are identified as scientific investments with mission based impact goals. An analysis of interviews with university representatives—supplemented with quantitative data on publications, patents, and follow-on funding— help to reveal the broader impacts of research centers founded by philanthropic dollars. The greater flexibility gained from a large philanthropic investment supports the impact of centers but does not eliminate the struggles for survival experienced by these research centers. This finding varies in light of donors’ philanthropic investment styles and benchmarks for success for their philanthropic projects.

This paper raises important considerations for public organizations seeking to better leverage large philanthropic gifts from high net-worth donors and better integrate philanthropic support with the governmental support of science. This analysis dually points to the lack of the peer review process as a policy mechanism to standardize the selection of science for the public good. This study concludes with policy recommendations to promote a modified peer review process to enhance the success of philanthropic investments in science.