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SVP International

Michael Brand

What are your community interests?  What are you passionate about?
I’m most committed to a robust nonprofit sector.  As an amateur historian, I understand how truly American the sector is.  It emerged out of tradition of self-reliance, citizen initiative and entrepreneurship.  All very Tocquevillian.   As an amateur economist, I understand nonprofits generate 10% of our GDP, so a healthy sector is critical to the economy as a whole.

What do you want to accomplish in the next decade?
It doesn’t take a futurist to recognize we are on the cusp of incredible transformation in our economy.  While there are plenty of social entrepreneurs creating new and interesting ways of doing business, I want to help existing organizations think thru how they can recreate themselves and thus navigate a path to their own preservation.

What criteria do you use in deciding where to focus your philanthropy?
Like many, one influence on my giving is the interests of family and friends.  While I may not be passionate about a certain organization,  I’ll still give in response to a request by someone close to me. This accounts for 30-40% of my giving.

Another third of my giving is directly to individuals in need.  The economist Tyler Cowen helped me understand that directly interjecting my aid matches immediate aid to immediate need without the middleman of an agency.

Finally, I only give to organizations I have personal contact with and thus confidence in their leadership.

Describe the most meaningful gift and why you made the gift.
A person in my community had their identity hacked and all of her social welfare benefits had been suspended by the state while government employees moved at their typical glacial pace to restore this woman’s account.   I went to neighbors along our street and among all of us we covered her rent, food, etc for a couple months until it was all straightened out.

Organizationally,  may years ago in my role as board president of the Friends Of The Library, I convinced my fellow Board members to launch a $35,000 capital campaign to raise the match for a special grant for a Children’s Computer Center.  In the 25 year history of the Friends, they had never raised more than $4000 in any one year.   On the night of the Board vote, I took out my checkbook and put the first $1000 into the kitty.  That was the most I ever made in a single contribution at the time.  But it got the momentum going.

How do you describe your contributions to good causes?
Philanthropy comes from the Greek for ‘Love Of Humanity’.  That describes it for me.

Do you prefer to volunteer your skills or your time?
Depends upon the situation.  If I believe my skills an make a difference, then I’ll give freely of my talents.  But I will give time to unskilled tasks if it allows me to be part of a community.

Have you served on a board? Did you find the experience meaningful?
I have served on nine boards over the decades.  On the whole I’ve found the experiences less than satisfying.   In 7 of the 9 cases my talents were not called upon in a way which effectively engaged me.

Is there another form of nonprofit engagement you prefer?
I’ve had better results acting in advisory roles, which includes advisory boards or as informal coaching.   In 2012 I gave time each week to mentor a young professional who was moving into their first Executive Director position.  The Board President called on me to donate time in order to help them with the transition.  It was an enormously satisfying engagement.