Image of Steve and Jean Case

THE CASE FOUNDATION

The Case Foundation invests in people and ideas that can change the world. 

In its efforts to address social challenges, it unites the principles of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology to invest in people and ideas with the potential to have an exponential impact for positive social change.

Here, Brian Sasscer, SVP of Strategic Operations; Allyson Burns, SVP of Communications and Marketing; Kate Ahern, VP of Social Innovation and Emily Yu, VP of Marketing and Partnerships discuss the Foundation's impact and plans for the future.

Steve and Jean Case have been involved in the internet industry since the early 1980s. They both played an active part in the online revolution, and subsequently played an integral role in building AOL into the leading online brand in the 1990s.

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We want to use all the tools available to us, to have the greatest impact and achieve the greatest good.

Steve and Jean established the Case Foundation in 1997. The Foundation reflected the Cases’ commitment to giving back and to leveraging their investment capital, broad network of passionate people and personal experiences to accomplish a simple mission—to invest in people and ideas that can change the world. Since launching, the Foundation has consistently sought to tap the power of the internet and technology to transform the social sector.

When they joined the Giving Pledge to reaffirm their commitment to give away at least half of their personal wealth for charitable purposes in their lifetime, Jean and Steve said:

“We want to use all the tools available to us, to have the greatest impact and achieve the greatest good. Our missions for the Case Foundation and our investment firm Revolution are therefore identical: we invest in people and ideas that can change the world. We deploy our capital – and our time – to have the greatest possible impact. We are privileged to have this opportunity to give back in so many ways.

We share the view that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. We realise we have been given a unique platform and opportunity, and we are committed to doing the best we can with it. We do not believe our assets are ‘ours’ but rather we try to be responsible stewards of these resources – and we recognise we have an obligation to reinvest them in a positive, constructive and flexible manner.

Jean Case actively serves as CEO of the Foundation with Steve Case as Chairman. In addition to giving through the Case Foundation, they also continue to make personal gifts to schools, churches and other organisations in their communities.

We at the Foundation realise that in our efforts to address social challenges, our strengths are in uniting the principles of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology to identify, test, prove and scale ideas and models designed to create exponential impact. It is this passion for finding and applying new approaches and disruptive models that drives our selection of grants and partners, regardless of the issue or area it may cover.

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Our goal has always been to invest in people and ideas that can change the world.

In addition to making grants, the Case Foundation believes that it can better maximise its impact by developing and executing strategic philanthropic programmes that address complex social problems through partnership, collaboration and the application of entrepreneurial models. As a result, the Foundation has shifted its funding resources more significantly toward the creation of these types of programmes. The Foundation also continues to leverage its employees’ and partners’ expertise in social innovation, social networking, marketing, technology and other areas to provide programmatic support to charitable organisations. Ultimately, this donation of time and service is intended to extend and further leverage monetary grants from the Foundation, or other partners and donors.

The Foundation has led a series of innovative and collaborative initiatives that aim to leverage new technologies to empower and engage citizens in the US and around the globe. Through partnerships with hundreds of non-profit organisations, private sector and corporate partners, as well as the public sector, these efforts have helped to expand the role of individuals in philanthropy and in giving back to their communities.

For example, the corporate skills-based volunteering campaign “A Billion + Change” has inspired commitments of over $2 billion in service from more than 500 companies to non-profits around the world. Seed grants from the Case Foundation, along with personal investments by Jean and Steve Case, helped to launch organisations like Network for GoodCauses and Mission Fish, which together have unleashed more than $1 billion in donations to non-profits.

Our goal has always been to invest in people and ideas that can change the world.  In our early days as a Foundation, this primarily took the form of multi-million dollar grants that we thought could best catalyse change to great organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics. However, over time the Cases began to recognise that the Foundation could be more effective in its efforts if they focused on leveraging the same skills that made them successful in business. This led us to evolve into a more programmatically driven Foundation with a hands-on approach, which is the hallmark of the Case Foundation’s work today.

We’re now focusing on a handful of swing-for-the-fences ideas that have transformative potential. While many of the ‘big ideas’ we have invested in vary in focus and grant amount, they all are built upon a foundation of leadership, collaboration and entrepreneurship, and provide opportunities for meaningful scale and sustainable impact.

It’s difficult to pick a ‘favourite’ programme or grant. We are incredibly proud of so many of the organisations we’ve funded and the initiatives we’ve been a part of creating – from our early grants to organisations like the Special Olympics, which catalysed the international expansion of their efforts [see video interview with Tim Shriver], to our ground-breaking experiments in open grant-making like Make It Your Own Awards and America’s Giving Challenges, to our cross-sector initiatives like the US-Palestinian Partnership and the Startup America Partnership. Even in cases where our efforts didn’t turn out as we’d hoped, we’re proud of the way we’ve been able to “fail forward” – sharing lessons learned with the sector and making important pivots along the way. Learning what we could do better ultimately leads us to partner with great organisations.

The Foundation is a diverse and dynamic institution by design. As we carry our work into the future, our plan is to build on the following guiding principles.

- Seek – explore a wide range of issues, industries, and ideas to identify new ways to resolve old problems.
- Experiment – embrace on-the-ground experimentation with new approaches and technology to create next generation models with high potential for scale and success. 
- Prove – evaluate the social and environmental impact of our work to prove the most effective ways to do more good. 
- Amplify – share our expertise and experience openly and form cross-sector partnerships to scale our work and achieve the broadest possible impact. 

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We strive to ‘Be Fearless’ in our approach to social change.

In the next couple of years, these principles are leading us to think about issues like impact investing, social entrepreneurship, pro bono work, effective and efficient measurement and reporting, and data and technology for the non-profit sector.

We recognise that with each day, social issues—from unemployment to childhood hunger to access to clean water—are becoming more urgent and interconnected. We believe that if those of us charged with finding and funding solutions to social challenges are going to keep up with the rapid pace of change and the daunting complexities of these challenges, we must rethink traditional models.

At the Foundation, we strive to ‘Be Fearless’ in our approach to social change. We take risks on new ideas, approaches and campaigns. We partner across industries and act with fervour to engage citizens and change the world for the better, and hope others will embrace this same approach to grow and strengthen philanthropy in the US.

We believe that the social sector needs to embrace the opportunity to take risks, be bold and to make failure matter. In 2012, we launched a campaign that called on all of us—foundations, non-profits, governments and individuals—to ‘Be Fearless’ in our approach to social change. We are asking the social sector to join us in committing to five principles:

Make big bets and make history. Set audacious, not incremental, goals.
Experiment early and often. Don’t be afraid to go first. 
Make failure matter. Failure teaches; learn from it. 
Reach beyond your bubble. It’s comfortable to go it alone, but innovation happens at intersections. 
Let urgency conquer fear. Don't overthink and overanalyse. Do.

In terms of advice to current or potential donors, our 16 years of experience as a foundation has taught us a number of lessons

- Entrepreneurial thinking can make philanthropy faster and smarter, with a greater impact.
- Innovation requires taking risks to discover new ideas and experimenting to find what works. 
- Cross-sector collaboration enhances expertise and advances systematic and scalable solutions. 
- Sharing knowledge from successes and failures accelerates collective learning and progress.”