FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Leaders of the philanthropic community gathered this morning on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University to discuss the current state of philanthropy and the future for not-for-profits in New Jersey and throughout the country. Speakers included Christopher Daggett, President/CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Deborah Brooks, co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation; Nancy Lublin, CEO of Do Something; and Andrew Zolli, Curator and Executive Director of PopTech. Also making remarks at the event were James Barrood, Executive Director of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at the Silberman College of Business; William Moore, Dean of the Silberman College of Business; and Dr. Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Chris Daggett told the attendees that there are several barriers to the philanthropic community. “We need to figure out how to adapt better and collaborate more,” he said. Daggett sees a variety of problems that need to be overcome by the philanthropic community. First, he said that foundations tend to want to be independent and keep control over everything they are involved with, which often times prevents collaboration. Second, they are insular and inward-focused, and therefore not focusing enough attention on the grantees. Third, foundations are very cautious and are risk adverse, which results in foundations only funding safe bets and not fulfilling a foundation’s traditional role to fund programs and ideas that are more risky. Daggett also said that time and inertia are issues because many people in the philanthropic sector are only working on philanthropy part-time and there are few people engaged in philanthropy in the first place. Lastly, he said that foundations concentrate too heavily on competing with other foundations and taking credit for successes, which again does not allow for collaboration with other foundations and the philanthropic community.
Daggett suggests that foundations become better educated. He encourages them to understand the context of the community they are attempting to serve and to better understand the grant applicants. Daggett said that foundations need to collaborate more and work together. He also believes they should “convene” more - - they should bring various groups together in a nonpartisan fashion to explore issues and figure out how best to move forward. He also believes they should find ways to bring foundations together to find ways to collaborate. Daggett further encourages foundations to become more proactive and take more risks. He believes they should provide better technical assistance to grantees and should develop strong feedback mechanisms to stay up to date and continue to improve. Lastly, he said foundations need to “take the long view” rather than concentrate on short term effect.
Daggett spoke glowingly about Sustainable Jersey and raised it as an example of how the philanthropic community can work together and have a significant impact. He noted that a program that began as the Municipal Land Use Center at The College of New Jersey, has now blossomed into Sustainable Jersey, now involving over 300 municipalities in the State with “a robust and informal process that is starting to yield very good results.”
Deborah Brooks, co-founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, said that the Foundation is successful because it deploys funds efficiently and strategically to maximum impact. The Foundation does not have an endowment – it spends every penny it raises. It made a conscious decision to not build a network of chapters and it values financial efficiency and accountability to donors. She noted that the Foundation looks at risk and return in a unique way. “We want to do things other people are shying away from,” she said.
Brooks told the attendees that the Foundation’s revenue stream is deliberate and that leadership donors drive their funding capacity. The Foundation’s fundraising relies heavily on face-to-face interaction with donors and each year, the Foundation starts fundraising from scratch. She noted that leadership donors have increased their support over time and that substantially all top donors renew annually. “Word of mouth powerfully contributes to finding new donors,” she added.
Brooks said that the Foundation’s vision for success includes a clarity of purpose, that the high risk/high reward model is core to the Foundation’s success, and that the Foundation itself is “only as good as the people who join our efforts.”
Brooks concluded, “Success in the non-profit sector is a combination of head and heart…it’s about real problems facing real people.”