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 Ewing Kauffman's generosity and foresight. However, these "largest" factoids may give the false impression that we can influence society just by virtue of our size or spending power. I would like to convey how small we really are.
First, in terms of assets: Although our endowment of nearly $2.1 billion does place us among the country's thirty largest private foundations, others like the Ford Foundation ($11.4 billion) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($29.2 billion) are much larger. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, sometimes seen as being in our bracket, has almost three times the assets with $5.5 billion. Next, in terms of spending power: From endowment income we spend about $90 million per year on grants, programs, and related expenses. That 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.
In support of entrepreneurship, for instance, the Department of Defense spent over $1 billion last year solely on Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grants and related tech transfer grants to young companies. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) had a budget of $807 million, with state and local agencies plus private donors chipping in hundreds of millions more to help run the SBA's network of Small Business Development Centers. Also, most states and metropolitan areas now have their own initiatives as well. Pennsylvania recently claimed a total of $2.8 billion of programs and grants for economic development, not all of it going to entrepreneurship, but far more in one state than the Kauffman Foundation can spend across fifty states.
For K–12 education, total annual spending nationwide is over $600 billion, including about $21 billion from the U.S. Department of Education. And while much of the money goes to daily operations, huge amounts are spent on educational research and development, not only in university-based centers but in private firms. A single large firm like McGraw-Hill—which has revenues of $6 billion from education and business markets worldwide—can easily spend more in a year developing new curriculum materials than the Kauffman Foundation's entire budget for education.
Finally, consider our staff size: The people at this Foundation are bright and creative, but there are 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. If we were merely to blow our own horns, no matter how skillfully, we'd barely be heard more than a few blocks from the stadium. This is why we talk so much about the importance of "leverage," a concept not as simple as it may seem.