We all feel called to make a difference – as individuals and through organizations and businesses. We see opportunities for a better world. We act. We give and invest. We persuade others to get involved. Slowly and surely, lives and places are transformed. The transformation inspires us to do more and the cycle repeats. It seems so simple, and sometimes it is and should be. Often, that simple start grows into a call for longer-term, thoughtful, collaborative action. That’s where things get really exciting.
I’ve had an incredibly blessed and diverse philanthropic journey. My extended family was (and still is) full of generous givers, volunteers, and public servants. Generations of donors endowed funds that ensured I could afford to go to liberal arts colleges. At age 25, I was asked to overhaul and lead state government grant and tax credit programs. (Yes, I made precocious mistakes.) Over 12 years, a community foundation plunged me into multiple roles in grantmaking and scholarships, community change, donor services, and asset development. A multi-generation philanthropic family trusted me to steward a number of changes to its work in a short time.
The upshot? I am an active philanthropist, philanthropoid, and philanthropy geek. I love working at the intersection of meaningful giving and community results. I love connecting older, established forms of philanthropy with emerging trends and experiments. And, I love asking and answering, “How can we do and serve better?”
Beliefs and Practices
Through my personal and professional experiences, I’ve developed these beliefs and practices:
- Philanthropy is best defined, thanks to Robert Payton, as “voluntary action for the public good.” This big tent definition means that everyone is a philanthropist, not just those with bigger stacks of bills, degrees, or paperwork. It includes evolving uses of time and talent online, impact investing and corporate responsibility, crowdfunding tools, and more.
- A wide variety of values and purposes, often unvoiced, drive the philanthropy of individuals, businesses, and grantmakers. I respect and celebrate that variety and meet people where they are in their own philanthropic journeys. I’ve successfully worked with donors and grantmakers from different generations and values sets, and with families and committees who are balancing multiple generations, motivations, and goals.
- Philanthropy should be purposeful and meaningful, but it doesn’t have be “strategic” as it is narrowly defined by some authors. I’ve seen effective, meaningful grantmaking based on simple plans and personal relationships, based on complex community change initiatives, and all points in between.
- There is no one right philanthropic tool. Each legal structure (or lack thereof) has its advantages and disadvantages. And each use of philanthropic resources – general operating grants, advocacy activities, screened investments, social networks, and more – can serve a useful purpose. I’ve been staff, incorporator, adviser, and/or donor of many tools, new and old, and can provide first-hand insights and connections to effective practices.
- Cash fuels social good, but doesn’t cause results. Real social good happens – and sustains – when people truly own the results and have the ability to attract and maintain the talent to achieve them. Successful philanthropy depends on networks of talented and passionate individuals – the staff of nonprofits and social enterprises, active and vocal citizens, engaged crowds of donors and advocates, parents, and others.