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Podcast: Interviews with Two Foundation Leaders

Posted: 4/7/2020

In CapDev's newly launched podcast, Generously SpeakingAllan Burrows and Clare Jordan host conversations with philanthropic leaders around the Southeast.

"We had planned to start a CapDev podcast this year to share the kinds of conversations we get to have with major leaders and donors in our region with others who might benefit from hearing what we discuss," said Allan Burrows, President of Capital Development Services ("CapDev"). 

When this pandemic hit, we fast-tracked our plans, and have launched the podcast in the past couple weeks instead of this fall.

"We felt like nonprofits needed a good and direct way to access communications from philanthropic leaders during this critical time. So we decided to start our podcast with a broad view, and asked the heads of the NC and SC statewide nonprofit associations to share their perspectives with us as nonprofits tackled the onset of this crisis," said Clare Jordan, Director of Marketing and Philanthropic Engagement for CapDev. "Jeanne Tedrow and Madeleine McGee enthusiastically agreed to join us for our inaugural interviews."

Next up: 

  • Damon Circosta, Executive Director and Vice President, A.J. Fletcher Foundation
  • Rhett Mabry, President, The Duke Endowment

Damon and Rhett each spoke with us about the impact of changes in the midst of pandemic, their advice to nonprofits, their communications with grantees, board relationships, and their expectations about how nonprofits will handle and emerge from this crisis. 

Rhett addressed the usual sequence following disasters, such as hurricanes (which Madeliene McGee mentioned in her interview as well): Response – Recovery – Rebuilding. We have usually focused on the last two phases, he said, but this time he sees more focus on needs in the first phase of responding to needs, and using nonprofits as intermediaries to do this important work in a time of crisis. 

Damon spoke of communicating with grantees with a light touch, citing a quote he heard recently: "there are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen." Saying that all of the Fletcher Foundation's grantees have "pivoted" well in this time, he expects that "the next phase of rebuilding is where philanthropy can play a key role."

The main message we heard from both of these conversations is that help is on the way - help to nonprofits, to their employees, and importantly to their missions and those they serve.*

Another common message we heard in both of these interviews is how much this crisis points out that we need each other. Asking "what is essential" takes on new meaning for nonprofits, Damon said, reminding us of the need we all have for one another – we are all essential for each other. Rhett likewise cited the need to stay connected, and especially for nonprofit staff to reach out to their board leaders for their thoughts and perspectives to help guide them through this time.

Considering how we might be changed by this, Rhett referred back to past pandemics, and though they are terribly hard on many people in many ways,  he said "I'm optimistic that we will learn from this."

Damon addressed this point as well, remarking that this has "truly never happened before… and lays bare exactly how capable we are as a society. I think we will see wholesale changes to the way the world works after this event."

We end all of our podcast conversations by asking interviewees to share an example of generosity:

  • Damon spoke of his visits to a local bakery with his daughter and the fact that they are still there trying to work and serve pastries. He said, "generosity sometimes requires showing up and doing the job."
  • Rhett told a story of Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans, granddaughter of James B. Duke. "She was a saint," he said, and he shared an example of a pre-med student who Mary inspired to become an actor and sent to London for theater training, who now has a Tony from his work on Broadway.

Wise words and thoughtful guidance from two of our state's major foundation leaders - thank you, Damon and Rhett!

*The Duke Endowment's $2.5 million dedicated toward COVID-19 relief was announced just after our interview. Details are available in the link provided in our Episode Notes of Rhett's podcast with us.

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