December 13, 2012

Three Strategies for Creating Effective Philanthropy Alongside an Active Career

This post is part of our series focusing on Conversations with Remarkable Givers, our collection of one to three-minute video clips drawn from over 50 original and private interviews with philanthropists and foundation leaders. Our initial launch features more than 400 videos, which will evolve into a library of over 1,000 videos, as we take a deeper look at each donor over the coming months.

By: The Bridgespan Group

Some philanthropists—such as those we profiled in last week’s post—have made the choice to leave their traditional for-profit career to focus on philanthropy full-time. Others have decided they don't need to make that choice; they can have both a high-powered career and engage in effective philanthropy. Of course, philanthropists who do so must use a number of proactive strategies to engage deeply with their philanthropy while balancing their career needs. Below are three strategies we culled from our Conversations with Remarkable Givers interviews that philanthropists have found helpful.

1. Philanthropists with "day jobs" make tough choices on how to prioritize their time.

One such philanthropist is Josh Bekenstein, a Managing Director at asset management firm Bain Capital and Chair of the Board of Directors of the venture philanthropy fund New Profit. Bekenstein's strategies for balancing career and philanthropy include limiting his causes and being strategic about which ones require his time. To that end, he and his wife, Anita, have divided their philanthropy into three key interest areas—higher education, medical research, and inner city poverty. For educational institutions and medical research, he concentrates on donating funds to educational institutions he and Anita have attended and trusted Boston medical facilities. This leaves him free to focus the unrenewable resource of time on his third key philanthropic area—inner city related causes, which is the area where he feels most needed and able to make a difference.

Josh Bekenstein: No foundation, no staff

No doubt time is precious, and getting the work-philanthropy ratio can take some experimentation. Early in his philanthropy Paul Tudor Jones, founder of Tudor Investment Corporation and venture philanthropy organization the Robin Hood Foundation, focused on working directly with the children in the school he was supporting, until he realized the most effective use of his time lay in a different balance. "My highest and best use is working, making ungodly amounts of money, and giving it away." Today he has a different time balance between what makes him happiest—working directly with the children—and working to generate funds for philanthropic use. In addition, he has called on his business expertise to service his philanthropic pursuits by way of working on boards, being on the executive committee, and taking on administrative work.

Paul Tudor Jones finds his mission

2. Philanthropists with active careers leverage their business skills and success in service of their philanthropy.

Jones is not the only philanthropist who capitalizes on his business expertise. For David Weekley, a homebuilder who has expanded into multiple markets through his company David Weekley Homes and who supports a number of nonprofits with 50 percent of his time and money each year, bringing his for-profit experience in growing organizations to the philanthropic world has been an important component of his philanthropy. He helps supplement nonprofit leaders' passion with coaching, "helping guide these organizations to become better and to grow and to expand," he says.

David Weekley commits both time and money

Even in the nonprofit sector, many people have difficulty asking others for money. So David Rubenstein, Co-Founder of asset management firm The Carlyle Group, applies the unique skills that brought him success in his business—fundraising and persuading others—to his philanthropy. "One of the things I’ve tried to do is take my private sector skill and translate it into the philanthropic sector," he says. Though he himself provides funding to nonprofits, he also actively raises funds on behalf of the causes he believes in.

David Rubenstein is not slowing down

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Bekenstein lends a different kind of support. He leverages his connections to serve as matchmaker by introducing friends and colleagues to nonprofits, increasing the chance of a successful connection by paying careful attention to people's interests. "If there’s someone who’s passionate about inner-city education, then that’s the person I try to introduce to an inner-city education organization I’m involved with."

For Hollywood icon Michael J. Fox, who co-founded the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the fame he acquired from his success in film and TV, most recently in shows like The Good Wife and Curb Your Enthusiasm, has served him well in his philanthropic endeavors. Fox has used his celebrity to bring public awareness to a previously little-known disease—Parkinson's—and, in effect, has literally put a face to the disease, which he's also used to reshape research into finding a cure. "I've known for years that celebrity is a coin, and you want to spend it carefully," he says. "You want to...use it to shine a light when you feel it can make a difference."

How Michael J. Fox and Debi Brooks split the work

3. Philanthropists who work rely on a strong support system.

Philanthropy always "takes a village," but this is even truer when the philanthropist has a high-powered career to balance with deep philanthropic engagement. For Jones, one key is supporting organizations with strong leadership. "The one thing that I’ve learned in all the not-for-profit ventures I’ve been in is the mission doesn’t change but the tools to accomplish that mission and then the world, that environment, they’re constantly changing," he says. This is why strong leadership, and in particular, the ability to create adaptive strategy, is so important.

For Bekenstein, one key to his philanthropy is leveraging others’ due diligence. "If you want to do philanthropy and you have no time, you have to do it in an incredibly leveraged way," he says. He recommends finding people you respect and trust to do due diligence on which nonprofits to support that focus on the areas you're interested in.

For Fox, having the Fox Foundation Co-Founder and Executive Vice Chairman Deborah Brooks to help lead and grow the foundation has been key. "When we were structuring the organization," Brooks says, "one thing that Michael made really clear is that he really did not want to be in the day-to-day operations, and I think that this goes back to an important theme, which is put a professional staff in place."

Undoubtedly, philanthropists who seek to give smart while simultaneously leading busy professional lives must use a variety of strategies, but Fox, Weekley, Bekenstein, Jones, and Rubenstein are proof positive that it can be done. Perhaps the most important secret to their success is their passion for the philanthropy. As Rubenstein says, "I enjoy what I’m doing and if you enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not really work.”


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