When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last week that he’ll be giving $100 million to New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools, it was the first education gift — or, for that matter, the first major gift of any kind — made by the 26-year-old internet mogul, who is worth at least $6.9 billion, according to Forbes. The details on Zuckerberg’s five-year gift are not public yet, but the money will have to be matched by other funders. The gift apparently came about because over the past few months, Zuckerberg got to know Newark’s charismatic mayor, Cory Booker, came to admire Booker’s passion for reform, and wanted to help. Yes, yes, Zuckerberg’s detractors have been quick to point out that his philanthropic debut comes just before The Social Network, an unflattering account of his role in launching Facebook, hits theaters nationwide on Oct. 1. But education reformers want to keep the focus on what the money can accomplish rather than what may be behind it.
Regardless of the reason why Zuckerberg is starting down this path, if he wants his gift to make a real impact, he’d be wise to study up on all the education grantmaking that precedes him. It offers some sobering cautions and some big lessons. Here are the five biggest.