NCG President and CEO, Ellen LaPointe, interviewed our Senior Fellow, Pam David, on her next play in philanthropy and baseball.
E: In the best of all worlds, what difference would you like to make with your next 24 months, here in the philanthropy ecosystem?
P: I’m really interested in engaging more family foundations actively in NCG and providing support for their CEOs and trustees. There’s a lot of new leadership at our family foundations, and I hope to bring them together and link them to more seasoned family foundation leaders as well.
E: Where does family philanthropy fit within philanthropy more broadly? What differentiates it?
P: As I was a funder of nonprofits in my local government role, I thought the transition to philanthropy would be relatively simple, but, Sandra Hernandez, then CEO of the SF Foundation and previously my colleague in city government, told me it would take 3 years before I knew which way was up. And, she was absolutely right. Philanthropy is an entirely different arena, with its own culture and practice. But, it took me even longer to understand the uniqueness of family philanthropy within the broader philanthropic landscape. That in that phrase “family philanthropy,” the most important word is family. And if you don’t understand that it’s difficult to be effective.
E: What's the outlook for family philanthropy given the rapid accumulation of wealth in our region?
P: When you think of the descendants of Levi Strauss, the Zellerbachs, the Leshers, the Fleishackers, the Bechtels – these families’ early and continuing philanthropic contributions have given shape to the Bay Area, have helped establish cultural, social, and educational institutions that most of us now take for granted. The Haas School of Business and Goldman School of Public Policy at Cal, Crissy Field, the Museum of Modern Art, the Symphony, Stern Grove – and a host of smaller organizations. The history of the Bay Area cannot be told without acknowledging the contributions and leadership of the region’s first generations of wealthy families.
The newer family wealth has some overlap with the older wealth, but is also branching out, true to their culture of innovation. Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, is a case in point – he blends the use of money, volunteering, and technology in the company’s philanthropic approach. But, at the same time, like those who came before him, he has a deep sense of place – and his family philanthropy has kept significant focus on the Bay Area.
I think it’s exciting that some of the new wealthy families are crafting giving platforms that blur the lines between for-profit and non-profits. The Omidyar Network, the Emerson Collective, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative have created LLC’s as a giving vehicle. They can pursue their philanthropic goals, but use a broader set of tools than is available to traditional philanthropy - and, if they choose, can also participate more fully in the political arena.
But, many of those whose wealth is springing from technology are not showing a strong commitment to place that earlier generations of family foundations had and still maintain. Many of the new wealthy families are parking huge amounts of capital in donor advised funds, with little of it being directed to our region. But, this new family philanthropy could follow the earlier leaders in being both place-based and global. Case in point are Walter and Elise Haas, descendants of Levi Strauss. They deeply identified as San Franciscans, but also as Jews, as Americans, and as global citizens. Their philanthropy was rooted locally, but it did not stop them from supporting critical national and international efforts aligned with their values – from civil rights to the UN to the establishment of the state of Israel.
I’m also hoping to help cross-fertilize and build deeper relationships between the newer family foundations and those that are more established. I think there’s some feelings amongst the newcomers that they want to do things differently – that the older foundations are stale. But that’s so not true. I think some of the most exciting work right now is being done by long-established funders like the Haas, Jr. Fund (think marriage equality and scholarships for Dreamers). We need to be careful not to throw the old out with the new!
E: How might your work with leaders help realize the potential of the sector to wield its power toward greater good?
P: I was a community organizer for years, worked in local government for 12 years, followed by family philanthropy for 15 years. There’s a knowledge I bring to the table about how each sector works, what their dysfunction is, how they communicate, and what they think of each other. I’m a firm believer that to make the change we want in this country and in this world, it’ll take all sectors contributing and working together. I’m particularly passionate about helping public-private partnerships succeed.
E: What do you think would change if trustees were to really step into their power?
P: This is a particularly challenging issue in family philanthropy. Many family foundations are staffed to buffer the family – to allow them to be in the background. But, when family trustees speak out their voices have tremendous power – think Michael Bloomberg or George Soros or Warren Buffet. Locally, I think there’s a small set of trustees willing and able to use their voices to amplify their foundations’ work. I would love to help connect and support them – and help their numbers grow.
E: By definition, much of the historic wealth that has given rise to philanthropy is derived from systems that are built to maintain the status quo in terms of access to opportunity and resources. What conversation about equity, race, and systems change might be possible at the trustee level in light of this?
P: The equity conversation is all around us in the Bay Area – and is both real and necessary. But, many of us know that you can’t talk about equity without talking about race and gender. So, for persons of wealth, disproportionately white and male, these conversations are difficult on many levels. We need good data, we need great stories, and we need a lot of honesty. We need to continue to talk about how the whole of a foundation’s corpus is utilized – not just the relatively small grant making portion. And, we need to have open conversations about some of philanthropy’s fundamental conundrums – particularly regarding who determines how standards of public benefit are met.
E: How old were you in 1968?
P: I was 16, living in suburban Chicago. I went to my first SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) anti-war meeting when I was 14 and I’ve been an activist ever since. Coming of age amidst this and other great social movements has shaped my life. It is not an accident that a lot of us baby boomers followed our values into the nonprofit arena.
E: How far do you think the Giants will go this year?
P: Not that far. They’ll be competitive – I’m hoping they stick with it at least through August.
E: When is the next game you’re going to?
P: Well, it was supposed to be tomorrow, but I have to testify in front of the board of supervisors instead.
E: See what happens?!