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Tactical Philanthropy Track: Individual Donors Practicing Unconstrained Philanthropy

Deyan October 6, 2010

This is a guest post by Adin Miller, owner of Adin Miller Consulting.  Follow him on Twitter: @adincmiller

The last Tactical Philanthropy session on Day 1 of at the 2010 Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP10) opened a revealing window into the individual philanthropic practices of three donors. The panel discussion featured Dave Peery of the Peery Foundation, Liz Alderman of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, and Jerry Hirsch of the Lodestar Foundation. The session was moderated by Katherina Rosqueta of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, housed at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice.

Throughout the session I recalled a recent Tweet by Kevin D. Jones in which he proclaimed philanthropy to be a broken model. I wish he had the opportunity to hear the panel discuss their passions and approach; perhaps the philanthropic model is not quiet broken. Each foundation represented a slightly different approach on how individual donors are engaging in philanthropic practice.

The Peery Foundation was founded in 1979 and largely existed on paper for many years. In 2001, the young generation in the family began to take an active interest in philanthropy. That eventually led Dave to begin extensively focusing on the foundation, the pattern of giving, and how to formulate that into a strategy for moving ahead.

Dave had little background in philanthropy, so he used his business expertise to build the foundation operations. He led an analysis of the foundation’s previous giving to determine where it should focus its resources. But, he also became somewhat bewildered by general foundation practices camouflaged as rules that appeared to stifle creativity and the organic approach to giving.

Eventually, he found inspiration from Bill Somerville’s book Grassroots Philanthropy, which led him to conclude that anyone working in philanthropy should not be constrained by what people say they should be doing. There are some constraints, but much of what is foundation practice can be adapted. The Peery Foundation now primarily invests in early to mid-stage social entrepreneurs effectively addressing the issues of poverty.

In contrast, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation was founded out the need for healing. The foundation was named in honor of Liz and Stephen Alderman’s son Peter who died on September 11th while attending a conference at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. Liz and Stephen went through a long journey to figure out how to best honor their son. Eventually, they came across a Nightline program that featured Richard Mollica, MD, the director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT), a division of the Massachusetts General Hospital… talked about the emotional wounds of survivors of terrorism and mass violence.” The full narrative of their story was published in the May 2009 edition of Criminal Justice Ethics and is reproduced on the foundation’s website.

The foundation eventually established in Peter’s name aims to “heal the emotional wounds of victims of terrorism and mass violence by training health care professionals and establishing clinics in post-conflict countries around the globe.” (Peter C. Alderman Foundation website) Through the foundation’s grants, Liz and Stephen help rebuild post-conflict societies traumatized by terrorism and mass violence. The foundation currently operates 10 clinics and has supported 500 doctors who have treated over 100,000 patients.

Jerry spoke last about the Lodestar Foundation, which was founded in 1999. As with Liz and Stephen, he spent months trying to figure out what to focus on. The foundation was and remains limited financially. It also had a limited amount of time to engage with beneficiaries. As such, the most effective approach was to pick a philanthropic approach that would maximize the foundation’s resources.

The foundation ended up focusing on process instead of a specific subject matter rather than on specific fields of interest. This focus permits it to promote efficient business practices in nonprofit operations while also strengthening the organizations. At the core of its efforts, the foundation supports long-term collaborations between nonprofits. And as Jerry also discovered, the foundation is very much alone in the philanthropic community in primarily supporting collaborations.

To date, the Lodestar Foundation has supported approximately 70 nonprofit collaborations that have generated leveraged impact. Even with its limited financial resources, it still has created significant collaborations and nonprofit mergers (see list of Impact Grants).

A few consistent themes emerged from the panel discussion. One, the three donors are effective without having large staffs. Two, the foundations and the donors continue to evolve their philanthropic approaches. Dave encouraged donors and philanthropies to move beyond the original confines of their foundation’s focus. Liz encouraged donors and philanthropies not to accept simple past ideas as the right approach but to willing create something new. Jerry encouraged donors and philanthropies to seek happiness in and gain satisfaction through their philanthropic efforts. Last, each was influenced by a critical thinker and found inspiration for their philanthropic approaches from unexpected areas.

The panel also stressed a few key lessons. Dave suggested that donors and philanthropies impose the same methodologies placed on their grantees, practice listening and building trust, and t apply a fresh perspective while also making sure to learn from existing people and approaches in the field. Liz suggested that donor and philanthropies focus on funding efforts that local communities believe represent the best investments and approaches, while also practicing active listening. Jerry suggested that donor and philanthropies develop a passion and love for philanthropy.

It would be interesting to keep following the three examples put forth by the panel. Much of the discussion focused on their respective journeys into philanthropy. Moving ahead, I would like to learn more from them about how they differential their charitable giving from their social investments or whether any of them seek to create a blended approach to their allocation of financial resources. Their evolving approaches could also help to further guide the sector in developing new and effective philanthropy models.

This blog post is part of the Tactical Philanthropy track at SOCAP10.

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