10 Questions or Less is a feature through which we get to know regional association staff members a little better—their work, what drives them, and more. If you would like to suggest someone for a profile through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.
2014 was a big year for Philanthropy West Virginia. What’s one thing that stands out as a big victory for the organization?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one; I would say fulfilling our strategic plan goals and becoming a thriving organization again. Between program delivery (over 20 a year), membership growth into a significantly stronger financial position, as well as being able to expand our staff component—these are all good stress relievers for me personally. Plus, a recent legislative win for our joint public policy committee with the WV Nonprofit Association. Professionally it’s great to see the organization hitting its stride. Our strategic plan is titled “20 Years and Thriving” and now that we’re three years into it, it’s really about hitting our mark.
I’m sure you have some audacious goals for 2015 as well. Is there anything you’re working on now that is particularly exciting?
We’re launching into more specific programming for corporate, private, and family foundations, but also into our work being a change agent for the state of West Virginia and central Appalachia. That includes launching some academies and institutes around ethics and leadership in philanthropy. We’re also building national partnerships. For example we’re bringing in Rip Rapson from the Kresge Foundation to talk about economic progress in times of crisis. As one of my board members puts it, Philanthropy is really becoming not just a player, but a leader in state.
How does the Forum Network contribute to your work?
It contributes significantly. When I came in four years ago this March, I was trying to figure out how to get started, how to transform—you could say that we had a lot of holes in the boat as an organization. Because our work is so unique, there’s no one else in the state or Appalachian region who understands what we do. My fellow CEOS, Forum Staff, and program staff have been great on sharing ideas from revenue generation to program development to membership recruitment to effective public policy engagement. It has been one of the most collegial, supportive networks I’ve ever experienced, as well as beneficial to us becoming that thriving organization.
This week you’ll attend Foundations on the Hill as a delegation captain. What issues will you address with your legislators?
With our Members of Congress our key issues are advocating on behalf of tax policies regarding the IRA Rollover Act becoming permanent in the tax code as well as the simplification of the excise tax on foundations. Those components are so important, especially to rural America, which we represent. Saving $5,000 in a family or private foundation’s excise tax results in a huge impact for the community versus that $5,000 going to Washington.
The other part of it is building partnerships with Federal and state agencies. We know in this time of financial limitation the strongest progress we’ve seen is with private-public-philanthropic partnership. We want to help broker those on behalf of programs and members in our state and bring resources back. When we’re in DC, we’re not just meeting with our Congressional delegation from a standpoint of asking them for things, but letting them know we’re resources to them. Secondly, how can we help foster prosperity and opportunity back home in our communities?
We also try to visit with several Federal agencies while we’re there—Appalachia Regional Commission, USDA, the White House, DHHS. When we have West Virginias in leadership roles in government entities, I don’t care about the politics, our job is to bring opportunity into our state and build the philanthropic sector and so we’re happy to do that and be the broker on behalf of the state nationally.
What would you say is Philanthropy West Virginia’s most popular member program?
The one that gets the greatest attendance is our annual conference. It’s continued to grow and it’s not just a party. People say, “Paul, you throw a great party,” and I say, “Well, thank you, but that’s not the purpose.”
I’ve been referencing with my board for the past year now Jamie Merisotis from the Lumina Foundation’s article “The Leadership Model of Philanthropy,” looking at how our organization can serve as that resource among our members in the state. He defines in that article the importance of charity and philanthropy, two different issues in our society, and how critical they are in this time of challenge. Charity is being able to take care of the needs of the day to day. Philanthropy digs into the deep root causes of why is someone hungry, why is someone unemployed, why is someone dealing with drug addiction, why is there not X, Y, Z. Really philanthropy tries to improve the systemic issues so it improves the entire lay of the land.
The reason I reference that is we try to bring that perspective throughout all of our programs in a state that doesn’t have a strong base because the wealth that has been made in our hills and our valleys has usually gone to create the big foundations in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and all over. Using the leadership model of philanthropy in our programming is a call to action to bring resources regionally and nationally into West Virginia for our members that they can apply into their work, whether they’re a small family foundation that gives away $50,000 a year or a large community foundation or private foundation that gives away $5 million a year. We’ve had members who have come to the annual conference and learned something from that approach. The impact was within four weeks or two months they’ve implemented a whole new program of grants initiatives, which goes back to our mission to strengthen philanthropy in the Mountain State.
The annual conference is the keystone, but for us it’s not about just hosting a little, fun gathering, but to provide knowledge, resources, and advocacy that really advances our members, grows the base of philanthropy through new foundations, and grows the strength of current endowments in play.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The rewarding part is this: I was personally impacted by philanthropy making it possible for me to attend college coming from a large family when my father was unemployed. When I was in college, I was a Bonner Scholar thanks to the Bonner Foundation based out of New Jersey. That precipitated me to focus on my education, civic engagement, leadership, and other roles. Their philanthropic investment in me allowed me to complete a top of the line education and participate in national programs and efforts as an undergrad. To come full circle back to where I work with the people who make that impact possible in others and not just putting money into things, but looking at how we can provide problem solving solutions as well as sustaining investments in West Virginia’s communities so that 1.8 million West Virginians can reach their fullest potential, that’s where it’s really fulfilling to me. Everything from economic development to job creation to arts and culture to education to quality of health and human services, that’s where the most passionate role for me has been. Being able to give forward, not justing giving back but focused on the future and working hand-in-hand with the philanthropic community. I try to participate in the philanthropic process myself, not just looking to other people, but learning how I can be an effective philanthropist now and throughout my life time.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Service and community leadership is the big thing. You can take the person out of the service experience and leadership role, but you can’t take the leader out of the person. Several of my interests are around civic engagement and young talent engagement/recruitment through such organizations as Generation West Virginia, which I founded, and serving on the board of Leadership West Virginia, Bethlehem Farm, and many others. But on the fun side of things, aside from those boring things, it is music, it is travel, it is time with friends and family, learning new cultures, sports, working out, and photography. When I have the time, it’s those types of things, exploring different part of the world. If it’s a Black Eyed Peas concert or Mumford and Sons concert or Rock Mafia that I can get into, I try to go to them.
Anything else we should know?
For any person that’s a new CEO or staff members, really engage your peers. The nice thing with the diversity of 34 regional associations is that you’re going to find somebody who has been where you are or is where you want to be.
I recall how Valerie Lies—former CEO of Donors Forum, a national leader, top 10 impact on the nonprofit/public policy sector—Valerie would sit down with me as a young pup. The Forum allowed for me to have that conversation with national leaders and many of our other Forum CEOs who are national leaders. I’m happy to be a resource to help others out. I’m young still and I don’t know it all, but I do know how valuable the Forum's trainings, expertise, annual conference, webinars, electronic resources, just the personal connectedness of the network is! And the willingness of people to talk to one another to help you figure out how to be successful in your role. If you tap into the network, there’s really no reason why you cannot be successful at what you do.