Tuesday, January 26, 2021
High-Impact Philanthropy Involves More than Money
Wood River Women’s Foundation President Peggy Grove, with Cheri Watson and past president Joanne Wetherell.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018


When David Rockefeller died at 101, full-page obituaries in publications like the New York Times made much about his tenure as chairman and chief executive of Chase Bank.

They gave only a passing paragraph to his long involvement with philanthropy, even though that may have been his most lasting contribution.

Rockefeller gave nearly $2 billion to philanthropy, spreading it out over such beneficiaries as the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller and Harvard universities and a sustainable food and agriculture center.

Members of the Wood River Women’s Foundation attend a Mix and Mingle at Gail Severn Gallery.

He reportedly said that philanthropy was the thing that gave him the most satisfaction in life.

“Philanthropy is a joyful experience,” said the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, who amassed his wealth through Standard Oil. “It’s important we use our heads but also follow our hearts.”

Lukas Haynes, the man who now oversees the David Rockefeller Fund, shared David Rockefeller’s passion this past week with the Wood River Women’s Foundation as he addressed about 150 members of the foundation and representatives from nonprofit organizations in the Wood River Valley.

Haynes said that the Rockefeller Fund is committed to bringing attention to difficult problems and innovative approaches in three primary areas: Arts, criminal justice and the environment.

Members of the Wood River Women’s Foundation will vote this month on the nonprofits they wish to fund.

Rockefeller himself was a believer in patient capital, understanding that institutions took years to build and that systemic problems like homelessness or persistent poverty can take decades to solve. He was in it for the long haul, Haynes said.

Rockefeller worked hard at philanthropy, researching the causes he gave to, attending the meetings and following up—all things that the Wood River Women’s Foundation is doing.

It’s important to build a shared understanding of the problem, Haynes said. And it’s important to measure progress.

“Having great ideas is just a beginning,” he added.

That said, some of the most significant change is not measurable, he said. How easy, for instance, is it to measure the healing power of a project to combat PTSD? How do you measure the ability of the arts to call attention to a particular social problem?

Haynes praised the Wood River Women’s Foundation for the diversity of issues it has given $2 million to in the past 11 years. The organization has awarded grants to about 50 organizations with causes that include social issues, arts and the environment.

Haynes said the diversity of philanthropy in this country is not well known. Most Americans think of philanthropy as what a few big names bestow on a local hospital or concert hall.

“The truth about modern philanthropy is much more exciting, democratic, innovative and well below the public radar,” he said.

There are more than 86,000 foundations in the United States with assets of $900 billion. They give out $60 billion a year.

The vast majority of foundations have no staff. Often, they consist of a couple family members making grant decisions.

Individual donations, he noted, eclipsed foundation giving in 2017, spreading $280 billion around.

Organizations can cultivate a broader culture of giving, he said, increasing their leverage with grant-matching partnerships with businesses and banks who share common goals. Or, they can even seek government grants to go with their own giving.

Other innovative approaches include using funds to help support efforts to get higher wages for such groups as tomato pickers.

“And money just the beginning. There’s so much more you can do. You can be an activist. You can be an advocate…” he said.

Policy change, he said, is one of philanthropy’s most significant levers, even though changing laws, rules and practices can be messy.

Even putting your name behind a cause often gives donors confidence, Haynes noted.

Never underestimate the power of committed volunteers pursuing their passions, either.

Haynes recounted the story of one person who raised $50,000 to build a trail. Her passion caught on with the city, which allotted $11 million to extend the trail 18 times further.

Haynes started a fund honoring his daughter Ana Lucia’s passion for her preschool and classmates when she died suddenly at 4 years of age. Lulu’s Fund raised $43,000 for scholarships for her preschool in lieu of memorial flowers.

“So it was a positive outcome out of a very sad story,” he said.

Haynes said giving is one of the healthiest most satisfying way to live life.

“The word philanthropy simply means ‘the love of humanity,’ in the sense of caring and nourishing,” he said. “So, by that definition, we all should be philanthropists.”

Sandy McCullough, a member of the Wood River Women’s Foundation, said Haynes’ remarks will help the organization’s members think about how to be more effective in their giving as they continue their work.

“Wood River Women’s Foundation members are motivated by a desire to give back and make a positive difference in Blaine County and also give better,” she said. “The women who make up the Wood River Women’s Foundation are inspired, committed and generous with both time and treasure. While we may represent a small valley, at 300-plus members we are one of the largest collective giving groups both in terms of numbers and especially on a per capita basis.”


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