November 8, 2005
by Joe Lumarda
The following essay was prepared for a discussion on philanthropic leadership—part of a series of six discussions entitled "The Dialogues on Civic Philanthropy: Perfecting Our Grants" (2005-2006). By clicking the links to the right, you can access more information on this series, learn about the Dialogues project as a whole, read other prepared essays, and download discussion transcripts.
WHAT, IF ANY, are the specific skills, attitudes or virtues required for excellent leadership in philanthropy today? And how are such skills, attitudes and virtues best cultivated?
As to the first question, who and/or what do we lead? We are in our positions in philanthropy because of a boss, a board or our own donative act. Unlike other leadership roles, we did not receive a majority vote from a political constituency, reap significant profits on a business bottom line or rouse hearts and minds in a pew. Do we believe we are leaders because we are ceremoniously given this honor at donor recognition events? In these moments, is such recognition granted because we lead, or because we have the money? In my view, the answer is most likely the latter. And God help us if we ever believe that we deserve the mantle of leadership for the act of writing a check.
Yet, as I reflect on my past 20+ years in philanthropy, I have witnessed leadership. I cannot glean a strict definition, but more of an echo of the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, when asked to define obscenity, said, “I know it when I see it.” When I attend a conference of philanthropists, there are individuals and organizations that, in their own way, attract attention, admiration and emulation. What do they do to deserve this distinction? Other than by gauging positions on organizational charts and the compliments from our peers, by what measure do we lead? This brief paper explores the twofold aspect of the typology and transference of philanthropic leadership.
Founder Leadership. From Ben Franklin and his estate to benefit indentured servants in Pennsylvania and Boston, to the Carnegies and Rockefellers at the turn of the century, to Gates and Soros today, these individuals and others (whether historically recognized or unsung local heroes) are the stuff of legend and learning for philanthropy. In my work with potential donors, these founders are continually referenced as examples and inspiration for new philanthropic endeavors. Philanthropy is a learned response and even if one does not glean it from family discussions at the kitchen table, founders have provided mentors to subsequent generations of givers.
Leadership Vision. What are the social needs to be addressed now and in the future? From philanthropy’s 30,000-foot societal vantage point, what do we see? In 1998, at a national conference for community foundations, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation Peter Goldmark declared that the greatest threat to our society was “Global Terrorism.” In that year, the response of the audience was a combination of incomprehension and boredom. There are foundation leaders who look beyond the horizons of conventional wisdom and around the corner of current events in order to foresee and communicate a looming threat or opportunity to act.
Innovation Leadership. How does one meet the challenge of implementing the vision? How does one create the right organization, systems and culture to meet the challenge of the need or new vision? At the turn of the century, Andrew Carnegie used his business experience and entrepreneurial spirit to cre
Joe Lumarda is currently a senior vice-president and investment counselor with the Capital Guardian Group. Until July 2006, he was the Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at the California Community Foundation.
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