Best Philanthropy Speakers

In light of my last post looking for how to structure the most engaging conference sessions, I have another question.

Who are the most amazing, dynamic and engaging speakers you’ve ever seen talk about philanthropy, the social sector and social capital markets?

Too often, people end up on panels or giving presentations because they are experts. But the fail the communication challenge and end up boring their audience.


  1. Amy says:

    John Pentland, is a remarkable speaker. He often speaks on social justice issues and has a way of making real issues seem that much closer to home.

  2. Thanks Amy! Would you give me a link to John’s organization or online presence?

  3. Dean Kamen was great – inspirational towards educating the youth of our country to get engaged.

  4. Elizabeth Miller says:

    I highly recommend Allison Fine ( She is a really great speaker on issues related to social and political change and technology. She gets it, gives great presentations and can explain tough issues to a wide range audience.

  5. Katherine says:

    Peter Dalglish- Started an NGO called Street Kids International, works for the UN in Nepal. I have heard him speak 2 times (one specificallt on philanthropy) at different conferences and everyone felt extremely motivated afterwards.

  6. Allison Fine, no question.

  7. Chris B. says:

    Perhaps a different twist, but Nipun @charityfocus “gets it” IMHO.

    Be Selfish, Be Generous:

  8. Erin Prefontaine says:

    Nicholas Negroponte

  9. CVNL Marin says:

    John Wood, author of “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” and founder of Room to Read. Not only is he inspiring, but the progress he has made is incredible… not to mention, he’s quite humorous as well.

  10. David Simms says:

    Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva brings great passion and energy to her talks. She will keep the audience on their toes and wide awake.

  11. Adin Miller says:

    A few come to mind:

    1. Sterling K. Speirn, W.K. Kellogg Foundation (
    2. Mark Kramer, FSG and Harvard (
    3. Robert Egger, DC Central Kitchen (
    4. Joel Fleishman, Duke (

  12. David Velasco says:

    I can recommend in Latin America 2 guys:

    – Fernando Frydmann ( from Argentina
    – Gonzalo Ibarra ( from Chile

    Gonzalo is an expert, passionate and enrgetic leader in Philantropy and Fundraising for Latinamerica,

  13. Kyle Reis says:

    Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone was pretty great talking about how philanthropy sometimes undermines the work it is trying to support. Beth Kanter is awesome on the topic of social media and nonprofits, as is Geoff Livingston. Tony Proscio was great in his talk on using clear language in philanthropy. And, of course, Katherine Fulton’s TedTalk is inspiring.

  14. Jay Frost says:

    You can find nearly 700–including yourself, I believe–in the one and only Professional Speakers on Philanthropy list:

  15. Leslie says:

    Of those I’ve seen speak in person, I’d say:
    – Billy Shore – stirs the spirit
    – Paul Schervish of Boston College – lyrically portrays the donor as a character who develops over time, somehow links Luke Skywalker (Star Wars) to the dry transfer-of-wealth stuff
    – Jed Emerson – absolutely, positively never boring
    – Peter Frumkin – ultra dry wit gives edge to his academic mastery of strategic philanthropy
    – and double underscore to Geoff Canada nods – Just last nite I told someone about his “accidents of history” speech at IS conference in Detroit- goosebumps

    Why is it so hard to think of women? Maybe because we just don’t see women speak as often as men….

  16. This is so helpful everyone, thanks for contributing. Keep the ideas flowing!

  17. Lori Tsuruda says:

    Bill Strickland, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (Pittsburgh), a MacArthur genius fellow, on social entrepreneurship with high expectations for participants

    Martin Cowling, People First-Total Solutions, on the important contributions of volunteers and what we can do to maximize these

  18. Erick Swenson says:

    Kay Sprinkle Grace without doubt is perhaps one of the most motivating speaker on the issues of philanthropy and not-for-profit leadersship.

    Kay combines knowledge with experience and more than a dash of class in all I’ve seen her do in many, many years. She is not a flash-in-the-pan nonprofit professional promoting the lastest fad or fancy. What she has to say is tried and true and, yet, is always fresh and welcome as a bright Spring morning. If looking for an ideal conference speaker, allow me to paraphrase McGarrett’s line to Williams, “Book ‘er Danno!”

    I believe she’s on the web at:

  19. kathleen says:

    Dan Pallotta because he challenges conventional wisdom, questions existing paradigms and really makes you think about how best to do good.

  20. Bill Strickland (already mentioned), John Wood (already mentioned). Both fabulous. Liz Murray – if you’re ready to get emotional.

    June Bradham CFRE on nonprofit boards – THE best and the author of What Nonprofit Boards Really Want, published by Wiley in 2009.

  21. Interesting thread, I would push everyone to think more broadly in terms of geography & the global vision of the speakers to bring us closer to our grantees. Try:

    Akwasi Aidoo of Trust Africa.

    Chet Tchozewski of Global Greengrants.

    Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi of Africa Women’s Development Fund.

  22. Paul S says:

    I like many of the suggestions, especially Allison Fine and Geoff Canada – both outstanding.

    In the thoughtful and provacative column, I’d add Mario Morino from VPP and Gara LaMarche from Atlantic Philanthropies.

    George Overholser from NFF Capital Partners is the evangelist of social investing and growth capital and he is both brilliant and engaging – great metaphors and stories to illustrate his points.

    Cheryl Dorsey from Echoing Green is a genius and is the ultimate expert on seed capital funding for nonprofits

    Sonal Shah, Michele Jolin, and Patrick Corvington are the administration’s point people and all 3 have deep understanding of philanthropy and change

  23. Kate Cochran says:

    Tom Tierney of Bridgespan has a marvelous way of sounding both brilliant and self-deprecating at the same time–and a good macro view of the sector today.

    I’d also vote for Bill Strickland and Geoffrey Canada, whose passion and clarity remind us all why we are working in these areas.

    From a contrary perspective, I would argue against someone like Dan Pallotta, even though I agree with some of his principles. One-note, unnuanced screeds are not going to move the conversation forward–they just create greater distance between people with differing opinions.

  24. Jesse W says:

    Some others not mentioned:
    Robert Egger
    Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod
    Matt Flannery
    Antony Bugg-Levine
    Jim Collins
    Matt Flannery
    Jacqueline Novogratz
    Kevin Jones
    Bono 🙂

  25. Thanks Jesse. If you want to have Bono give me a call, I promise I’ll give him a keynote! ;^)

  26. Beth Carls says:

    From Tracy Gary’s bio….
    Tracy Gary is a philanthropist, nonprofit entrepreneur and legacy mentor who has worked tirelessly to help others experience the joy of giving charitable dollars to causes they care about. Through her eighteenth start-up, a non-profit called Inspired Legacies, she consults with a diverse range of organizations to improve and expand philanthropy and volunteerism. Her latest venture is the Tipping Point Fund for which she is raising $20 million to shift poverty and the environment. She has appeared on The Today Show and Oprah Winfrey and been interviewed by The Washington Post, NPR, Time, The International Tribune, and others. Ms. Gary is the author of “Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step by Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy” (published by Jossey-Bass, Nov. 2007, and available from

  27. Dan Nigito gets my vote. I’ve heard him speak twice..his topic was :It’s My Money and I’ll Give When I Want To!”. He was riveting..and funny.

    He brought his new book -The Power of Leveraging the Charitable Remainder Trust: Your secret weapon against the war on wealth. (Wiley and Sons) A great opportunity for charities and their welthy donors (or potential donors).

  28. Ann Fitzgerald says:

    I’d vote for Leslie Lenkowsky, Professor of Public Affairs and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University. He’s a great speaker and challenges the conventional wisdom in the philanthropic world. He is able to give insights from his practical experience in both government and the nonprofit sector combined with his knowledge of latest academic research.

    Also: Adam Meyerson, president of Philanthropy Roundtable. He’s very knowledgeable regarding donor intent and the preservation of philanthropic freedom.

    Finally: William Schrambra, Director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal at the Hudson Institute. He hosts regular discussions in Washington, DC on many topics regarding philanthropy and encourages lively debate from all sides.

  29. This is a great conversation you’ve started Sean! 2 of the best speakers I’ve ever seen are:

    1) Paul Polak – Founder of International Development Enterprises, which has enabled 19 million farmers to lift themselves Out of Poverty. He’s a self-identified “trouble-maker”, unbelievably knowledgeable, and also hilarious.

    2) Brian Bordainick – The Founder of 9th Ward Field of Dreams gave a speech that brought every person at The Feast Conference in New York City to their feet, recounting the incredible story of how he raised over $1 million in post-Katrina New Orleans.

  30. Jay Browning says:

    Claire Gaudiani
    She gives an amazing historical perspective of philanthropy and where it came from and how to influence it today. I strongly suggest reading “The Greater Good”.

  31. Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) and Jaqueline Novogratz and Clay Shirky (on social media for social change) and cartoonist Lynda Barry (!) on the design movement for social good. Alec Ross (State Dept) also is pretty good, about social media for social change…

  32. Lauren Kay says:

    Kris Putnam-Walkerly, of Putnam Community Investment Consulting.

    Kris served as co-presenter for a webinar we did on social networking tools for philanthropy consultants. She was passionate and knowledgeable about the topic and she has an engaging and comfortable style. Kris also had great real-world experience to share. The webinar was very well received and a majority of participants said they were interested in attending a more advanced follow-up session.

    I also heard Dr. Robert Ross of the California Endowment speak in Los Angeles recently about grantmaking and advocacy. He was most eloquent and inspiring.

  33. Great list, Sean. I’ll add another vote for Bill Strickland. Great storyteller. And I’ll add Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. Holly knows how to present technology (including social media) and its related issues in understandable and useful terms.

  34. I highly recommend Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink. Exceptionally inspiring, and always thought provoking and right on point.

    Also agree with the recommendation for Jed Emerson above.

  35. Rich Polt says:

    Been traveling, so I’m late in the game to this thread…

    Someone who has not appeared on this list yet (I’m shocked actually) is Andy Goodman (, He is one of the most entertaining and enjoying speakers I’ve seen on the topic of effective communications in the nonprofit sector. He makes you feel like you’re at a stand-up comedy performance, and then you remember this is actually work-related!

  36. Rich, Andy Goodman is the best speaker I’ve seen on any topic. Amazing guy!

  37. robert egger says:

    quick shouts for some new folks on the scene–
    Rosetta Thurman (DC) on the changing faces of philanthropy
    Mando Rayo (TX) on New Americans and Philanthropy
    Jason Sabo (TX) on Nonprofit Political Engagement

  38. Rikard Treiber says:

    Brad Smith, President of the Foundation Center, gave the opening plenary speach at the annual meeting of the Grants Managers Network. Brad has great grasp of philanthropy and nonprofit sectors, as well as the social and political contexts in which they carry out their work. I’ve also seen Brad as a discussant and moderator on various panels with senior leaders in philanthropy. He is always engaging and inspiring, and adds humor without making light of important issues.