The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is often referred to as one of the largest foundations in the United States—or as the world's largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship. Both are true, thanks to our founder, Ewing Kauffman's, generosity and foresight. However, while our Foundation is having an influence on society, it is not by virtue of our size or spending power. Consider how small we really are.
In terms of assets: Although our endowment of nearly $2.1 billion does place us among the country’s thirty largest private foundations, we are small compared to some foundations with assets in the multi-billions.
In terms of spending power: We spend about $90 million of endowment income per year on grants, programs, and related expenses. This is a sizable sum, yet it pales in comparison to the amounts spent by public agencies in each of our fields, entrepreneurship and youth education.
Finally, consider our staff size: The Foundation’s bright and creative associates number fewer than ninety on the payroll. In the Kansas City region alone, hundreds of businesses and nonprofits have staffs larger than ours. At most universities we work with, the marching bands are larger.
In short, we cannot hope to make much impact through the sheer force of dollars and numbers at our disposal. What makes us mighty in our impact is our ability to lead through leverage.
At the Kauffman Foundation, we apply not only financial leverage, by requiring matches, but idea leverage, by seeding concepts that are then emulated by others beyond our grantees.
Our leadership-through-leverage approach is much like a tugboat. We are dwarfed in size by many of our partners, who range from universities and school districts to public agencies and business enterprises. But by being nimbler, we help to get them moving. We provide the nudge, perhaps, that’s needed to overcome institutional inertia . . . point them in promising directions . . . stay alongside as they navigate the tricky shoals and narrows . . . and then, once clear, watch them set sail.
We know a program idea is on the right path when it produces early results that inspire others to emulate it, or to join in funding the effort along with us. We know a program is succeeding when people start to "own" it—not only by taking financial responsibility, but by taking hold of the idea and making it better.
By leading through leverage we multiply our impact and see ideas become bigger than we could have grown them on our own.
— Carl J. Schramm