How to make sure philanthropy pays off

By Ryan Holeywell | @RyanHoleywell

Reposted with permission from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research

Discovery green 2

(flickr, Elion Shehaj, some rights reserved)

Richard Kinder – the Kinder-Morgan CEO who has spent millions of dollars beautifying Houston’s public spaces – says philanthropists should be careful to take a deliberate, targeted approach when using their money to improve their communities.

Kinder, who helped fund Houston’s Discovery Green, Buffalo Bayou Park, and the Bayou Greenways project, among others, said his investments are the result of “a rifle shot approach, not a shotgun approach,” as he and wife Nancy Kinder sought to improve the city they call home.

“We decided we wanted to concentrate most of our giving in Houston,” Kinder said. “We wanted to be as transformational as possible. We wanted to take on projects we thought would not get done… if they didn’t have the impetus of participation from us.”

Kinder said his family’s philanthropy is focused on improving education, urban green space and quality of life in Houston. He spoke Wednesday at the spring meeting of Urban Land Institute, where he was interviewed by Kinder Institute director Bill Fulton before an audience of about 3,400.

Richard and Nancy Kinder endowed the Kinder Institute with a $15 million gift in 2010.

Kinder said Houston has thrived due to its entrepreneurial mindset. Part of the reason it’s been able to pursue major developments is because the community is receptive to “thinking big.”

Although Houston has a thriving economy – driven largely by the intellectual capital from the energy and medical industries – Kinder said it will take more than just business to convince people to move here. Without strong quality-of-life offerings, he said, people won’t be interested in calling a place home.

That’s part of the reason the Kinder Foundation contribution $10 million to develop Discovery Green, a now-thriving downtown park with hundreds of free events every year.

As part of that deal, Kinder said his foundation and others took steps to ensure that the park would be cared for and not re-developed for at least 40 years – and hopefully longer. Those steps are crucial for philanthropists who want to ensure their contributions actually pay off. “Coming from business, you’re focused on a return on investment,” Kinder said

Kinder said similar assurances were put in place for Buffalo Bayou Park, which is set to debut its new look next month. In 2010, the Kinder Foundation provided the Buffalo Bayou Partnership with a $30 million grant to fund park improvements.

“Simply put, every project needs to have sustainability and be able to stand on its own two feet,” Kinder said. “To do that, you have to have a partnership with a public entity that’s going to guarantee or be a source of funds for maintenance of the project.”

Rich Kinder ULI