President Robert W. Briggs was honored on October 25th at the Ohio Grantmakers Forums' annual conference as the 2011 Ohio Philanthropy Award recipient. For over 15 years, Rob has led GAR Foundation and served in countless capacities to better the immediate Akron and wider Northeast Ohio communities.
OGF Philanthropy Award – 10/25/11
Thank you, George, and my heartfelt thanks not only to you, but to all of those who had a hand in choosing me for this award. I am both deeply appreciative and deeply humbled, so thank you. I accept this award on behalf of all of my philanthropy colleagues who have been so supportive. And thanks George to you and the Ohio Grantmakers Forum team for all of the great work that you do.
Before I share my brief remarks, I would like to ask you to please read what is on the screen. As you read, please think about your reaction as a grant-maker to this inquiry. (attached)
So, what do you think?
There is a time when I would have keyed on the grammatical problems of this letter and been quick to dismiss it. I would not have given the letter the serious consideration that it deserved.
This is actually one of the first lessons that I learned as a professional working in the field of philanthropy. As I near my retirement from the GAR Foundation, I have become quite reflective and philosophical about what I have learned and what I believe we have accomplished. I wanted to share some of that with you today. I realize I am singing to the choir, but it’s always good to hear a great song again.
First and this relates to the letter I showed you: Adopting a condescending attitude in this business is the worst of all sins. We have to be willing to look at grantees with open eyes, hearts and minds. We have to meet people on their ground, not ours. Some of our best grantees have been uneducated, but really smart and passionate.
We must always strive to be deferential to and supportive of grantees and potential grantees. The goal at GAR Foundation is to have each and every grantee and potential grantee whether they receive a grant or not walk away from interaction with us saying, “Wow. They really helped me.”
The second lesson, and perhaps as important as any, and one that I learned early on and that is, it’s not my money! The endowment created by Galen and Ruth Roush was their money, and established for the benefit of our community and region and the charitable beneficiaries. So, as foundation administrators we must never forget that we are fulfilling the trust that our foundation creators established.
The third lesson is that notwithstanding extensive experience in the legal and nonprofit world, rarely do I understand the grantee’s business better than the grantee. And while grants may be for specific projects and with certain metrics, it is up to the grantee and not the foundation to execute. So, we must give our grantees that leeway and confidence.
Fourth, we must continue to approach our work with positive attitudes, even when the grantee has fumbled and gotten into deep trouble, we must focus on the positives and how to resolve their issues and not adopt a “shame on you attitude” with lots of blame assessment. Again, we are there to help, not to be critical.
And finally, we must walk the talk. We must do ourselves what we demand of our grantees. Especially in the areas of transparency, collaboration, networking and mutual support.
Now, if you will indulge me, there are a few acknowledgments that I want to make, in addition to my thanks to the Ohio Grantmakers Forum.
The first is to my law colleagues. My career in the practice of law was both personally rewarding and challenging in so many respects. And, since 1970, at Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, I have been in the company of extraordinary lawyers who are committed to a strong culture of supporting the communities where we live and work.
Next, my deepest heartfelt thanks to my GAR colleagues, I could never find a better team.
Since 2000, when I stepped aside as President of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, my almost exclusive focus has been on philanthropic endeavors and these have been the most rewarding years of my career.
Rewarding, not only because of the wonderful colleagues with whom I have worked both inside and outside the foundation especially the Fund for Our Economic Future, but also because of the incredible grantees, their passion, their work, and their extraordinary accomplishments.
Thank you again for this terrific honor. And thanks to all of you with whom I have had the honor and privilege of working, for all of your good work and efforts.