Foundation Leaders Address Effects of Pandemic: Damon Circosta

Posted on

Allan and Clare interview Damon Circosta, Executive Director and Vice President, A.J. Fletcher Foundation.

Episode Notes:

  • Damon/A.J. Fletcher Foundation’s advice: exposure of the value of nonprofits doing their work is heartwarming; the next phase of rebuilding is where philanthropy can play a key role; encouraged by the nonprofit sector
  • Communicating with grantees with a light touch: “there are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen.”
  • All grantees have pivoted: SE Raleigh Promise, Oak City Cares, Healing Transitions, for example
  • Initially hit “pause button” on current conversations with new potential grantees; then shifted to conversations with current grantees to be present for them as needed
  • Damon expects most foundations will be doing their “real work” over next 6-24 months; foundation’s role is ensuring nonprofits survive these economic changes
  • “Throwing out the rule book” thinking about philanthropy
  • Jim Goodmon’s first questions are always: 1. What are the facts? 2. How can we help? – We will figure this out.
  • Feeling good mentally and physically: flexibility, balance, and dietary changes – learning to go easier on ourselves
  • “It’s OK to be OK not being as OK.”
  • Asking, “What is essential” takes on new meaning for nonprofits. Remember the need we all have for one another – we are all essential for each other.
  • Shaping public policy and media ventures – advocacy and good information is critical in the sector
  • 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.”
  • “Difficult times reveal our noblest selves” (quoted by Allan) – How do we not lose this connection point?
  • Looking for the silver linings: wealth inequality has occurred more recently; yet after tragedies such as this, “we’ve got an opportunity, when we get to the other side of this, to think about polarization and wealth inequality….”
  • Example of generosity: visits to the local bakery, “generosity sometimes requires showing up and doing the job”
  • Board of Elections: Damon chairs the board and reminds us that we will “find a way to get it done,” and is very proud of the staff of the NC Board of Elections to “get the vote to work.”

Damon Circosta:

Damon has been the Executive Director of AJF since 2012 where he has spearheaded several initiatives that help non-profits thrive. Damon comes to work every day heartened by all of the good things happening in the non-profit sector and AJF’s unique role as funders, partners, counselors and helpers in these endeavors.

His favorite quote, originally attributed to an 18th Century French Philosopher, but made known to Damon in a book about surfing sums up how he feels about his job:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

A native of Arizona, Damon has lived in California, Hawaii and (for a few weeks each year) on the shores of Walloon Lake, Michigan. Previously, Damon led the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, an organization dedicated to improving the electoral process. He currently serves as the chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections as well as a professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona School of Law. If you ask him, he will tell you way too much about his paleo diet and “fringe” sports pursuits like surfing, ultimate frisbee, climbing and pickleball. He vehemently opposes Daylight Savings Time.

Return to Insights & Events