Reframing How We Give Back: Six Lessons from Robin Hood Foundation CEO

Wes Moore believes that money alone is not enough to eradicate poverty. Rather, he believes that restoring our cities and lifting families out of poverty requires a multifaceted approach that includes collaboration between the nonprofit sector, the business world, and government.

To further explore this concept, Cresset recently hosted a live webinar with Wes, who is CEO of Robin Hood Foundation, New York City’s largest anti-poverty organization. His stories and insights left the audience both moved and inspired. Below are six lessons that Wes shared to help us reframe how we give back:

1. When you give, give joyfully.

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, spanning thousands of causes. Most are worthy of support and resources, so where do we focus our time and resources? Wes recommends that we “find the thing that makes our heart beat a little bit faster.” While it is responsible to look at data, scale, and the ripple effects of specific organizations, it is imperative to choose your focus based on your values, identity, and gut feelings. The joy that comes from this alignment will help in overcoming the inevitable frustrations and enable you to bring your full resources and creativity to overcome pressing challenges.

2. Philanthropy alone is not going to solve poverty.

Over $400 billion is donated to charities each year, but Wes notes that one change in public policy can do more for a cause than 30 years of giving. When we look at a problem like poverty, our initial reactions may be to take away the immediate pain and hardship. This is valid and worthy, but it is also necessary to look at the systems that perpetuate the problem in the first place. Voting in local elections, partnering with the social sector, and encouraging those around you to get involved can go a long way to make change happen. Own the power that you hold and consider ways to advocate for those who do not have the same voice.

3. Capital should be patient, but it should not be permanent.

When giving away hard-earned money, it is understandable that we want to look for longstanding and trustworthy organizations to put that money to work. However, if many nonprofits are true to their missions, their end goal is to put themselves out of business since the problems they address will ideally be solved. Wes calls himself “phenomenally impatient” in wanting to solve the issue of poverty and encourages others to be the same. Real change will occur when our passion and impatience force outdated systems and stereotypes to change.

4. People closest to the problem are often closest to the solution.

If you walk through certain villages in east Africa, you will see modern latrines and toilets that were installed sight-unseen by well-meaning donors to solve problems caused by poor sanitation. Open the door, however, and you may find that these latrines are being used as chicken coops. This example showcases the problem that can arise from strategic philanthropy or bringing business expertise from one country or industry to solve problems in another. It is imperative to include those affected by an issue in the design and rollout of the solutions. As a philanthropist, ask yourself this question during your due-diligence process, “Are the right people in the right seats to solve this problem?”

5. Philanthropy should be looked at as venture funding.

Venture capitalists expect a significant number of their investments will fail, but they also believe that those that succeed will far exceed the losses. Likewise, big problems require bold moves, and nonprofits need room to both innovate and fail. “Trust-Based Philanthropy” is a growing trend that puts the power and decision making with those who run the nonprofits. Through unrestricted and multi-year grants partnered with transparency and communication, the theory is to allow for funders to do their research and then trust the direction and leadership of the grantee. Failure and the growth that may come of it could set the stage for a “philanthropic IPO,” a strategy that gets picked up by the government, industry peers, or global partners.

6. Give all of your capital.

This does not mean to empty your bank account. Rather, it means to leverage your time, money, intellect, and networks to fully address a problem. Along with donating money, do you have the skills to help a nonprofit design a website? Can you mentor female business owners in support of a nonprofit accelerator? Or can you use your contacts to help connect motivated young people to new opportunities? Begin by making a list of the capital you have to deploy in the categories of time, talent, and treasure. Then, make a plan to invest that capital into the causes you care most deeply about.

Wes referred to himself as “the most unlikely philanthropist” because of his differing views and strategies, but it is diversity of thought that will bring about the action we need. As new approaches to big problems come to the forefront, we must be humble, bold, curious, and committed to see the impact that we hope for.

New to philanthropy? Check out Cresset’s 20-minute education burst on the current landscape and trends. Want additional education and coaching? Schedule a call to expand your giving journey.

Cresset Favicon

About Cresset

Cresset is an independent, award-winning multi-family office and private investment firm with more than $45 billion in assets under management (as of 04/01/2024). Cresset serves the unique needs of entrepreneurs, CEO founders, wealth creators, executives, and partners, as well as high-net-worth and multi-generational families. Our goal is to deliver a new paradigm for wealth management, giving you time to pursue what matters to you most.

Receive Weekly Market Updates

From Chief Investment Officer, Jack Ablin.
We use cookies to improve your web experience, analyze site usage, and deliver personalized content to you. Some cookies are essential to site functionality, others are optional and help us see how the site is used or allow us to better service you.  By clicking “Accept” you are accepting all cookies. To better understand how cookies are used by us or to opt-out, visit Terms of Use.