November 10, 2005
by Joe Lumarda
The following essay expands upon a story told by the author at a discussion on philanthropic leadership—part of a series of six discussions entitled "The Dialogues on Civic Philanthropy: Perfecting Our Grants" (2005-2006). By clicking the links to the right, you can access more information on this series, learn about the Dialogues project as a whole, read other prepared essays, and download discussion transcripts.
THERE ARE moments in life when it all becomes clear. The jargon melts away. The strategic plans take second stage. All the meetings become moot. In terms of my personal role in philanthropy, what motivates my leadership and what got me where I am today, one distinctive moment with a special person comes to mind.
Several years ago, I was sitting across a kitchen table with a future donor to the California Community Foundation. We were going over the details of his philanthropic plan. Frank was a self-described small businessman, inventor, tinkerer and “string collector.” This was a modest self-description for someone who built up an estate of more than $20 million.
Frank also liked to tinker with his arrangement with the community foundation. After our initial meeting, he would call me up almost monthly to see if we could, “Go over this thing one more time.” At this particular meeting (the last one we would have) we sat across from each other at his kitchen table surrounded by open books, half-done sculptures and other projects “in process.” His breathing was labored and assisted by a stream of pure oxygen fed to him by nose-tube.
We’d been here before, but this time it was different. He usually leaned over our papers, fiddling with words or asking for my definition (and the community foundation’s) of a particular concept. On this morning, he sat back and asked me to describe in detail what would happen, “When I kick-off and this thing kicks-in.” This was the first time he wanted a presentation without interaction or questioning. I covered all the points, emphasizing both the concepts and details that we had struggled with over the past several months. His eyes, though half closed, held me throughout. After I finished and sat back in my chair, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back for what seemed to be a very long time. I hoped he wasn’t falling asleep.
As my anxiety began to mount, his head snapped forward. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. “Thank you, Joe,” he said. This was the first time I’d heard those words. I nodded my head with must have been a quizzical expression.
He leaned over the table, placed his hand firmly on my forearm and squeezed. He then said words I will never forget, “I guess you’ll be me — when I’m no more.” When a donor says something that hearkens the specter of death, I often come back with a dispelling quip — but not this time. Instead, I responded, “Yes sir, I will. We will.” After a few minutes of sipping our tea in reflective silence, Frank proclaimed, “Now get out of here young man, I have work to do!”
Frank died about a month later. His estate created a fund at the community foundation that provides scholarships for disadvantaged youth pursuing vocational training. He never went to college and wished to support kids who “liked to work with their hands.” He chose the community foundation because his fund would not be tied to any one institution and would be free to support the best programs to meet his philanthropic vision.
“I guess you’ll be me — when I’m no more.” This statem
Joe Lumarda is currently a senior vice-president and investment counselor with the Capital Guardian Group. Until July 2006, he was the Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at the California Community Foundation.
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