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Message from Marc Kastner, President of Science Philanthropy Alliance

Dear Science Philanthropy Alliance community,

What a year it has been for basic science! We have seen anew the power of basic science discoveries to excite us. There was great excitement over the first direct observation of gravitational waves—distortions in spacetime caused by the collision of massive black holes nearly 1.3 billion light years away. And we have seen CRISPR technology accelerate the pace of basic biomedical research by making it possible to alter genes much more quickly.

These exciting times for science mean that there are great opportunities for philanthropists to join in the adventure. Indeed, we have seen philanthropists stepping in to fund basic science when governments find it difficult to do so.

The Alliance, which is comprised of foundations that want to support private giving to basic science, has made good progress this year: our membership has grown from 6 to 17 organizations, including some in the U.K. as well as the U.S. I have been gratified to see our member organizations engage not only with us, but also with each other, to inspire additional support and to maximize the effectiveness of their giving. Both new and experienced philanthropists have joined our community, seeking information and advice on how to give effectively to basic science.

Philanthropists and foundations are already providing substantial support for basic science; our first survey of private giving to basic science research indicates that more than $1.2 billion has gone to basic science research in 2015 in the U.S. alone. In 2016, our members and others have continued their commitment to support basic science research. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an Alliance advisee since 2015, announced this fall the goal to “prevent, cure, and manage all diseases by the end of the century”. Their $3 billion commitment over ten years makes them the second largest private supporter of basic biomedical research in the U.S. after Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Nonetheless, much larger resources and many other organizations will be needed to reach this audacious goal.

Furthermore, our survey shows that other fields of science are receiving much less private support than biomedical research. Indeed only 16% of philanthropic funding to basic research reported went to  non-biomedical research. This is unfortunate since it is often discoveries in the physical sciences and mathematics that give rise to new technologies important for the growth in our economy, improvement in our quality of life and, yes, even medicine.

The slow growth in economies around the world and the political uncertainty that it has engendered gives us no optimism for a turnaround in government funding for basic research.  In such times there is a natural tendency to favor research with relatively short term goals.  Thus, the need for philanthropic support for basic science is more urgent than ever.

Philanthropists tell us that supporting basic research is challenging. They say it is daunting to know how to give effectively in fields where the risks are high and the time scales long. We want science philanthropists to get satisfaction out of their generosity, and to do that they must be effective. The power of the Alliance is that our member organizations have hundreds of years of cumulative experience and can help new philanthropists avoid mistakes.

In 2017, we will continue to focus on our mission of increasing philanthropic support for basic science, by providing advice and information to new and emerging philanthropists, and helping our members become more effective in their giving.

We thank each of you who have supported basic science and are ready to roll our sleeves up to work with you in support of basic science.

Here’s to the future of basic science.


Marc Kastner

President, Science Philanthropy Alliance