Denise Carpenter came from a low-income family, a low-performing school and was a teenage mom, but she was determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Now a Dell Scholar and graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, Denise is pursuing her master’s degree in social work and mentoring students, much like her young self, in her spare time.
In 1999, we started the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to help children and families, like Denise, living in urban poverty in the U.S., South Africa and India. We’ve met amazing people along the way who have inspired us and taught us how to give in ways that change lives, not just circumstances.
From the start, we took a different approach to philanthropy – one rooted in research, measurement and partnership. Susan and I are often asked about our foundation’s philosophy and operating principles, so we are hosting a live broadcast event today (our first ever) to share our story. And you’re invited. 😊
At our foundation, we think about our projects as investments, and we’re meticulous about directing our resources where they’ll have the most impact. We also know that learning from others and, perhaps most important, from our own mistakes is critical to the process.
That was the inspiration behind A Philanthropist’s Guide to the Future , a new resource for people like us who want to be part of the solution for those in need today. The guide gives insight into our experience and that of hundreds of social entrepreneurs from around the world.
It also includes eight principles, called the Dell Social Impact Principles, which direct everything we do at our foundation:
1. If it looks easy, look closer. The only way to solve the surface-level challenge is to address what’s happening underneath. Use your passion and skills to dig deep and find the roots of the problem.
2. Take the risks your challenge deserves. Our greatest challenges require doing some things differently. Push the boundaries and be willing to take risks where others won’t.
3. Stay the course. Behaviors change slowly. Time is often the most important investment you can make. It’s going to take more than one try to make an impact, and it’s going to take more than one success to make a difference.
4. Money alone doesn’t solve problems. Money doesn’t solve problems, people do. A combination of talent, ideas, resources, and execution is the only way to create solutions that last.
5. Invest in people. Collaboration among unlikely partners amplifies impact. Find people who challenge your thinking and invest in them.
6. Measure mindfully. Evidence is the only way to know whether you’re making a difference, but not all data is created equal. Always measure, but be smart about what you measure, and how.
7. If it doesn’t work, tell everyone. Your outcomes, both good and bad, are opportunities for others to learn and do better. We all win when we learn together.
8. This is worth it. No one ever said that creating lasting change was easy. The work ahead is incredibly challenging. When you see the real-world impact your work has made, you’ll know the effort was worth it.
These principles are intuitive, not revolutionary, but they’re driving real change. For instance, students in our Dell Scholars Program in the U.S. are graduating at a rate of almost 80 percent – four times the national graduation rate. This program is one of our greatest success stories at the foundation, and it’s the direct result of applying the Dell Social Impact Principles.
By sharing what we’ve learned, we hope others can capitalize on our insights and apply them to their own ventures. It’s not a prescription, but it’s a good place to start—and sometimes that’s all we need.