Giving Ventures: Making Big Charitable Bets with the Peterson Prize

Award Namesake ‘Patriotic Guy, Served in the Marines’

“Greg Peterson was one of America’s very first venture capitalists; he accomplished a lot more than that in his life and died, unfortunately very young,” says Hoplin. “So, he was a patriotic guy, served in the Marines, co-founder of Sutter Hill Co., which was a venture-capitalist and real-estate development company which he started in 1961.”

The one-time $250,000 grant is awarded annually to a trailblazing non-profit newer than five years old or a new project at a legacy organization. Tune in to learn about the prize and its namesake, Greg Peterson, a businessman; former Marine; and a Stanford University alumnus, mentor and trustee.

Prize ‘Brainchild’ of Gregor Peterson’s Son Eric

“The prize really was the brainchild of Gregor G. Peterson’s son Eric. So, to understand the genius of the prize, it’s important to know that the very personal reasons the family started it is what gives it so much meaning today, and it really is the best, most high-impact and meaningful grant that the family could make, we believe, ” says Hoplin.

‘We’re Firm Believers in Non-Profits Determining Their Own Destiny’

In fact, the family announced six nonprofit finalists for the 2023 $250,000 prize. The groups in the running are Independent Women’s Network, a project of Independent Women’s Forum; IronLight Labs; the Children’s Entrepreneur Market, a project of Libertas Institute; the Dissident Project, a project of Young Voices; Love Your School; and American Accountability Foundation.

The family expects the award winner to submit a list of goals for the organization and checks in to assess whether the organization is meeting their goals and, if the organization doesn’t meet all it’s goals, that’s not necessarily the be-all, end-all as there are sometimes reasonable explanations for not reaching every goal.

“It’s an art and a science. Just the fact that they exist is not enough. We want to see that they are growing, that more and more people out there want to invest in their work, that they are accomplishing what they say they’re accomplishing. We’re firm believers in non-profits determining their own destiny,” says Hoplin.

‘We Rely Upon a Nonprofit to Tell us What They’re Going to Accomplish’

“In other words, we rely upon a nonprofit to tell us what they’re going to accomplish, to give us the benchmarks, and then we look back on those benchmarks and we ask the question, ‘Did you reach your goals? What were your milestones and did you hit them?’ And, to us, that’s really important,” she says.

“It’s not that we are imposing some sort of unrealistic expectation on a nonprofit. Instead, those nonprofits tell us what they’re going to do. And, if they don’t get to everything they said they were going to do, that’s part of the process and we evaluate that every single year.”

The $250,000 isn’t awarded as a lump sum, however. Instead, it’s paid out over three years after the family reviews an annual report on the organization and determines the benchmarks are being satisfactorily met pending any extenuating circumstances.

‘Chemistry Matters’

As for specifics on how the family determines which group wins the $250,000 prize, Hoplin says the family gives her and her colleagues three areas on which to home in on as they’re reviewing the applications. Of those focus areas, one is particularly important and that’s leadership as it pays homage to namesake of the prize.

“We focus our assessment on capacity, on leadership, and the big idea. When it comes to leadership, we are looking for the characteristics that set Greg Peterson apart from his contemporaries, and the family identified those as commitment, integrity, honesty, commonsense,” says Hoplin.

“So, we look for those traits in the leaders that we evaluate. I would say, for the Peterson family, they spend a good deal of time with each of the winners over the years, so chemistry matters. And, just like Greg Peterson mentored young entrepreneurs, the family focuses on building relationships with the leaders of the prize,” she adds.

“So, being likeable and able to communicate your ideas clearly, being straightforward and honest with the family matters a lot.


Start Protecting Your Intent Today.

Are you interested in giving to nonprofits that align with your conservative or libertarian values? If so, consider opening a simple, secure, tax-advantaged giving account with DonorsTrust.