How Would You Steward Jeff Bezos?

Really: How would you steward Jeff Bezos?

When the 2nd richest man in the world asks how to put potentially $80BN to work for the greater good, we're confronted with a remarkable challenge and opportunity. What makes it truly challenging is to understand how this volume of dollars has its greatest impact right now.

Let's shrink the consideration down to higher education. Today, tuition and fees come to ~$25K per year per student. Let's say Jeff wants to put $5BN to work ASAP. How about paying for all four years of 50K students' college educations?

But how big of a dent is that? Considering there are over 20 Million college students in the US, what would 50K full rides really mean to the total economic picture? Well, a lot less than 1% of the current college student community would be impacted. For a guy who touches 120MM with Amazon, that doesn't seem like enough. How do we steward a movement-sized gift like Mr. Bezos' knowing he's delivering enormous long-term impact in business, can do the same with his gift, and wants to make an impact now?

First, you have to look at what his dollars can do. There are certainly endowments that have seen a few flat years, but if you look at a massive fund like CalPERs, they expect 7% returns each year. On a potential $5BN gift by Bezos, that's $350MM per year. $250MM in a slow year. $100MM in a terrible year. And it costs about $40K/year to educate a private school student in the US. Or 2,500 students every year. Forever. At a minimum. In 20 years his gift breaks even on impact

Then? It's all scale.

That's what I want to tell him; that a school like Wheelock could suddenly be tuition free.

For massive gifts like Mr. Bezos', we should all be so very, very thankful that he is choosing to be a philanthropist in whatever capacity he does it. I know I cannot wait to see what such a bright, committed philanthropist like him might do. It would help, though, to know what he's passionate about and to link that to near-term impact.

Understanding passion for Mr. Bezos is not impossible at all. He's a largely public figure with press releases, public speeches, investor communications, a lively Twitter feed and more.  All of that has rich implications for how he might be stewarded for his alma mater, Princeton, to which he's been very supportive in the past.

For example, he talks about space flight and his children in this Tweet:


We know he's a dad to four including a daughter adopted from China. What might be compelling to Mr. Bezos at Princeton:

  • Center on Contemporary China

  • Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education

  • Any number of scholarships, like those directed to Women in STEM

All of those could make real sense for him with both near-term and long-term impact of true merit. Now, when $5BN is in play, you can spend forever figuring out a path. However, what you cannot do is spend this kind of time relating Princeton's needs to every alum - until the advent of Isaac from QuadWrangle.

The data is all around you. You just have to know how to capture it, understand it, and apply it to your goals. Drop us a line to find our more how you can treat every donor like Jeff Bezos.

Nick Zeckets