Susan Berresford on Philanthropy

I attended the “Emerging Leaders Salon with Susan Berresford” today. Susan ran the Ford Foundation until retiring recently. A lot of ground was covered, so I’ll present my thoughts in no particular order.

In talking about the value of having work/life balance and how pursuing your interests makes you a better philanthropist, Susan said, “You are a better grantmaker if you do blogs.” That’s right. Now all those people who say they don’t have time to read blogs have marching orders from Susan Berresford to find the time so that they can do their job better!

She said “I made a rule that I would never stay in the office for more than a week at a time” in talking about the need to get out of the office if you are going to do your job well. This sentiment was pushed strongly in Bill Somerville’s recent book Grassroots Philanthropy and was the core of the One Post Challenge award winning post by Trista Harris titled An Evacuation of the Ivory Towers.

Susan also made the point that she disagreed with the idea that “charity” was not as important as “strategic philanthropy”, stating that nonprofits depend on regular old “charity” to operate. This reminded me of the point I tried to make last year regarding the Center for Effective Philanthropy framework of Total Strategists vs Charitable Bankers (apparently I’m the only person to mention the movie Clerks, Britney Spears and the Center for Effective Philanthropy in a single blog post). Personally, I am interested in philanthropy from the angle of investor (or builder, in the language of the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s George Overholser), but as George makes clear in his paper Building is not Buying, not everyone needs to be an investors. We also need customers (or “buyers” or “charitable bankers”) to fund nonprofits as well. George’s point is that the nonprofit world needs a new accounting system that explicitly distinguishes between “charitable” donations and “strategic” investments.