Lessons from Foundation Leaders

By: Will
Will is a participant in Allowance for Good's Winter 2015 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy: Explorers class.

This week at ELP, we were lucky enough to talk to a few leaders in the philanthropy world today. Two members of the McCormick Foundation and one from the Jack Miller Family Foundation joined us to discuss their work. We learned the origins of each group, and what they strive to fix through their philanthropy. Programs run by the groups varied immensely, and the speakers were passionate while discussing the diverse initiatives focused on Judaism  medical research, civics, education, democracy, aid for veterans, and more.

As students, it was interesting to hear from two separate foundations each trying to give meaningful grants. The McCormick Foundation is substantially larger than the Jack Miller Family Foundation, but both groups utilized similar grant-making policies. Personally, it was unexpected to hear just how driven each group was by their founders. For the McCormick foundation, they are still driven by the values from about 150 years ago. Jack Miller, who is still alive today, also plays a large role in crafting his foundation’s initiatives. 

Later in the class, we were invited to ask a few questions of our panel. I asked the first question, which was definitely a tough one to answer. I inquired as to how their foundations measure the success of their grants after giving them. The answers varied, but provided nice insight into how decisions are made in foundations. Suzanne Knoll from the Jack Miller Family Foundation noted that their group attempts to give grantees the tools to measure success on their own. They also try and use any quantitative data available to find the impact of the programs. The representatives from the McCormick Foundation also commented on the difficulty of analyzing success in philanthropy, and what their efforts have been. 

There were a few more questions posed before the end of class. For example, one student asked which of the programs each panel member was most proud of. The unique answers displayed their passion for helping others, and some background for what drives them. Unfortunately we ran out of time a tad early, but the chance to hear from these friendly and intelligent guest speakers was amazing. A friend and I also got to ride down in the elevator with one of the speakers, so it was nice to speak a little bit longer with him. I loved getting to know the philosophy behind each foundation’s work, and I’m looking forward to next week’s class.

Will writes, "I am a Catalyst for Good because everyone deserves the right to be their own catalyst."