Luisa Kroll, Forbes Staff
Hedge fund titan John Arnold shocked the investment world in May when he announced he was retiring at age 38. “After seventeen years as an energy trader, I feel that it’s time to pursue other interests,” wrote the former Enron trader who was one of the industry’s best performers over the past decade.
At the time Forbes speculated that Arnold, who signed the Giving Pledge with his wife Laura in 2010 and whose foundation had assets of $711 million, according to a 2010 filing with the IRS, might devote more of his time to philanthropy.
Today we learn a bit more about John’s and Laura’s latest $4 million project. The couple, who now work in offices next to one another with a removable divider, launched the Giving Library, a collection of videos featuring 250 charities, on Tuesday to help philanthropists learn about the nonprofits.
It all started back when the couple began their own journey looking for worthy nonprofits to support. While they had the time and money to spend on the searches and meet with executive directors, they soon realized that it not a smart use of anyone’s time. Most philanthropists were only getting exposed to a small handful of nonprofits, while executive directors were being forced to spend an inordinate amount of their time on fundraising.
“We saw a need to create more efficiency in the system to have a more organized vision of receiving and processing information on nonprofits,” explained Laura Arnold.
Added her husband: “We started to do our own research, trying to go to websites to read about nonprofits. We realized we got much more insight by speaking to the founder. If you have significant resources, it’s worth their time to sit down and meet a particular funder but that’s not always practical for the majority of funder or nonprofits.”
So they hatched an idea to shoot videos of these charitable organizations and put them online to allow them to tell their stories in a deeper way to a much broader audience. For starters, they sent hundreds of letters to nonprofits, some of which they knew (Teach for America, the Innocence Project, and KIPP schools are all groups that the Arnolds have personally backed that have videos posted), but plenty that they didn’t. There were no filters in terms of substance or geography; the only requirement was that it had to be vetted and confirmed as a legitimate nonprofit.
They quickly filled the initial 250 slots and began working with them to improve and polish their scripts, or statements, responding to a series of set questions, and arranged video shoots in one of three cities.
One of the questions that the groups are asked is about their success metrics; it’s a question the Arnolds have not yet answered for their own effort. When I asked how they’d measure success, they told me they hadn’t come up with specific measurements yet. “We’ll know it when we see it,” said Laura. In the meantime, they plan to move forward expanding the library in the coming months and already have a waiting list of 100 nonprofits who want to join.