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The skinny from the Family Philanthropy Conference
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 01.26.2011Share

I spent the first few days of this week in New York at the Family Philanthropy Conference in New York, a collection of remarkable talks and conversations. I can't recap them all (and should have live blogged it) but a few glimpses:

-- Katie Couric spoke about her motivations for giving, in which she reminded us of the deaths of her husband and her sister, both of cancer. She was, as you might expect, honest, perky and funny. My favorite moments in her talk: First when she was describing her parents and the interviewer said "They must have ingrained you with a lot of chutzpah." Katie laughed, reflecting on her Christian upbringing said, "Yes, but we called it moxie." Second was the quote from George Clooney on a clip reel she showed: "The great thing about the human species is that the lucky ones can stand up for those who are not so lucky." Lovely.

-- Next up: Josh Viertel of Slow Food USA, which is pressing to have more local food and more local gardens in our schools and communities. He's funny and brilliant (and I don't even care much about food). He reminded us that there are now more people in American prisons than there are American farmers. How sad is that??? But I also loved his vision: "I dream of a time when we have more school vegetable gardens than there are McDonalds." Nice dream, Josh,, bravo.

-- Paul Bennett of IDEO, the design company that also asks the big questions through OpenIDEO, urged the philanthropists in the crowd to be more open. "Philanthropy feels impenetrable to outsiders. We must make it feel more 'normal' and personal and more human." And he challenged the audience to take more risk in their giving, to work quickly and aggressively even if that leads to less than perfect work. "Big ideas are overrated. It's the little clever things joined together that are disruptive."

-- My favorite might have been the closing session with Timothy Shriver, the head of the Special Olympics. His father, Peace Corps creator Sargent Shriver, died last week, so there was a significant question of whether Tim was going to keep his appointment to speak. But he addressed that immediately, saying, "I heard my dad's voice saying 'Go there and make a difference.'" And what a difference it was, as he described his love for the Special Olympics and the difference that the word "success" means to the Special Olympics participants. (Forget "stronger, higher, faster", focus on "giving your best." The oath: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

My eyes welled up several times. Asked what he'd advise the audience about dealing with a mentally handicapped population, Shriver said something that really moved me: "You know, we all want our kids to be friends with the kid who's going to Harvard -- the achieving, successful kid. That's natural, totally normal; we want our kids to associate with those winners. But I'd encourage you to just befriend a mentally handicapped kid too. After all, their biggest battle is loneliness."

My takeaway wasn't exactly deep but a great reminder: Every human needs love. Every one.

Lastly, I couldn't help but throw in this little factoid about nonprofit donations from Charles Best at Donors Choose. in fundraising, pet birthdays bring in more money than human birthdays. Is America a great country or what?

America has more people in prisoners than farmers? Well I am not surprised. More than 70% of America's farms were lost to economies of scale during the 20th century. This is what industrialization has done to our common history. Canada has 6 prison farms which are now threatened with closure: http://saveourprisonfarms.ca Is there anything more ridiculous? Prison farms teach skills, and give prisoners dignity by allowing them some responsibility over their own welfare.
Posted by Chris at 04:57am on 02.08.2011

Josh Viertel-Having more people in prison than farmers...that is a pretty strong statement for us here in Iowa. Gives me a lot to think about! Paul Bennett-Would most philanthropist consider investing in alarm clocks? I did! I bought a $10 alarm clock for a college student so they could make sure they can get to class on time. I can’t wait to see how that $10 grows in the next few years…I know it was a perfect investment! Timothy Shriver Every person has strengths and everyone is the best at something. We have to plan our vacation around our daughter’s volunteer work she does with a friend’s camp. This year we are letting her and a friend go to volunteer at a camp in Washington State (1/2 way across the country!) for 2 weeks to do the same thing. She knows that even at age 15, she can make an impact. Kevin-Thanks for the report!
Posted by Kelly at 1:39pm on 02.02.2011

Oh, one other great Josh Viertel line: "Right now it's cheaper to feed our kids Froot Loops than it is to feed them fruit." Pathetic.
Posted by Kevin at 6:54pm on 01.26.2011