Rachel Kerry from CAGES Foundation discusses the humility, insight and courage shown by the aristocracy of American philanthropy.
Today we had the pleasure of traveling to various pockets of New York to hear from experienced philanthropists. Showing no fear around innovation, they were incredibly candid about how and why they do what they do. We investigated the importance of understanding big picture vision (and values) while balancing the ability to generate the greatest return possible.
Our first stop was the Rockefeller Bothers Fund where we met President, Stephen Heintz and Chair, Valerie Rockefeller Wayne. The legacy of the Rockefellers Brother’s Funds is certainly impressive. Valerie and Stephen were in agreement that much of its success is attributed to ongoing transparency and the family’s continued dedication and involvement.
Apparently size is all relative since a US Foundation which has a market value of investment assets in excess of $800million was described by Valerie and Stephen as quite small! Initially there was shock around the room of more modestly endowed Australian foundations. However, considering the foundation’s population scope and global perspective this is reasonable - focus while remaining visionary has been a primary objective.
Next was lunch with Peter Buffet from NoVo Philanthropy, accompanied by Bob Dandrew, who runs the Local Economies Project (the goal of LEP is to cultivate a sustainable food economy in the Hudson Valley). They were also joined by Dorian Goldman, Trustee of the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation and her son Jacob Israelow. Dorian and Jacob spoke about their partnership with the LEP and how the contributions of smaller funders have enabled further sustainability of the initiative.
Peter introduced us to the idea that philanthropy was the 21st century alchemy of turning money into love. Peter’s philanthropy showed great thought, respect and a real reflection of society which had lost some of its ability to have relationships and congregate. Peter challenged us to select grantees through feeling as much as analysis.
I think it is fair to say the group could have departed lunch completely satisfied however we were privileged to visit New World Foundation who had gone from philanthropic foundation to operating foundation to achieve greater impact. Joel Harrison, an ancestor of founder Anita McCormick Blaine, said it was integral that philanthropy didn’t hide behind generosity in funding only to be selfish in achieving its own goals. Philanthropy needs to transfer the power base, wherever possible, to the community – the ultimate beneficiary.
Colin Greer, the CEO of New World Philanthropy suggested that metrics around growing corpus were not as relevant as achieving mission (even if this resulted in the loss of some financial return). This concept had already been raised by Peter Buffet who was not averse to using corpus prophetically - stating that we are here to create change and not to create institutions.
At the end of the day we had the great privilege to walk along The High Line (abandoned railroad tracks which have been transformed into a public park). Two committee members with a dream convinced the public of the space’s value. They demonstrated that innovation, belief and persistence can be of great value to all.
Today we met a diverse group of philanthropists and philanthropic bodies however they all had one thing in common – looking for forgotten cracks where they could have the most impact. They were thoughtful, provocative and derived power within their philanthropy through, what initially appeared to be, an incongruous approach; combining passion and intellect as well as tradition and innovation. Irrespective of critical differences in size and setting, there were many lessons which we will all apply to improve our relevance and effectiveness.
Oct. 28, 2014
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