Philanthropic Ventures Foundation

 October 2012 


a newsletter for our donors and colleagues  


The Loneliness of the Individual Donor - and How to Cure It

We are pleased to share an excerpt from a new book by PVF Board Member, Colburn Wilbur, entitled Giving With Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy.  

When I was starting out in philanthropy, few options existed for professional development. Of course, I read everything I could get my hands on. But to tell the truth, there wasn't much.  


Today the person who wants to learn about philanthropy faces a very different situation.  Every publishing season brings another shower of weighty tomes. Meanwhile, there's a near-constant deluge of scholarly articles, opinion pieces, blog posts, scathing critiques, and hopeful suggestions scattered about in print and pixels.  You can't read them all.  You don't need to try. These days, an immense degree of cogitation is devoted to management theory, world historical analysis, dueling dialectics, and the minutia of various giving tools. That is, the theory and practice of giving. The business.


Which is fine. Up to a point.


But I think a serious donor needs first of all to immerse himself in the nature of the problems he hopes to address.  If you're interested in drug treatment, homelessness, or the crisis in public education, then devote study time to an excellent journalistic account of what's happening in our country right now. The authors of the best topical nonfiction spend years investigating their subjects, frequently dispelling conventional wisdom with accurate on-the-ground reporting.  Think about Alex Kotlowitz's There are No Children Here which traces the lives of poor kids growing up in Chicago's housing projects; or Anne Fadiman's remarkable portrait of an immigrant family's clashes with the public health system in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down; or Lonny Shavelson's groundbreaking work on drug rehabilitation, Hooked.  Each of these books required total immersion in the subject. As a result, they provide far more insight and context than you could hope to collect on your own. What's more, they're engrossing good reads. You might even experiment with reading two or three accounts of an issue from contrasting points of view.  It's healthy to shake up your thinking now and then, particularly with the subjects that you think you have mastered.


Still, there eventually comes a time when you must put down your book, fold up your journal, click off the computer - and start talking to people. I stress this point because in our incessantly wired world, we tend to overlook human encounter as a deep, verifiable source of understanding.


So where do you begin? How do you separate valuable life lessons from well-meaning rambles? Who's the right individual for you to meet at this moment?


Early in my career, I was fortunate to have friends working at Stanford's development office who provided wise counsel. Over time, I met a number of keen-sighted trustees and program officers employed by the foundation world, both in the Bay Area and beyond. I peppered them all with questions. Whenever I felt besieged by uncertainties, I reached out - at conferences, in foundation hallways, over the phone.  I was uniformly treated with generosity and encouragement.  Still, I always hungered for more information, contrarian viewpoints, and new directions. Wherever I could locate another wellspring of wisdom and experience, I drank as deeply as my own capacities allowed.


The need for colleagues never ends.  I've been working in philanthropy for most of my life now, and I'm probably more attuned today to the counsel and challenges of my peers than I was starting out.  In the company of others, we get an opportunity to reexamine our plans and perceptions with fellow givers and determine which are relevant in the calculus of our personal philanthropy. We can make certain that our decision-making isn't conducted in a hall of mirrors. We lose some of the loneliness that seldom gets spoken of in philanthropy, and move closer to the shared enterprise that can be the heart of giving.


To read more from Colburn Wilbur's new book, Giving with Confidence: A Guide to Savvy Philanthropy, click here.  


Join Us

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has come to depict exciting philanthropy - grassroots giving that is born out of creative thinking. If readers would like to explore new possibilities in their giving, we are ready to meet at your convenience. We believe your giving should be fun, satisfying and significant.

We can be reached at (510) 645-1890.

About PVF 


PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and conducting innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.


About the Editors
Bill Somerville has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as Chief Executive Officer. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations in the United States, Canada, and the U.K., on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker.

James Higa
James Higa brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley to PVF, working alongside Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many breakthrough products and services at Apple over the last three decades. James has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts during the 2011 Tohoku and 1995 Kobe Earthquakes in Japan.

Board of Directors

Duncan Beardsley, Chair

Director, Generosity in Action


John P. Carver 

Retired Senior Vice-President

The Gap Inc.


William E. Green


William Green & Associates


James Higa

Executive Director

Philanthropic Ventures Foundation   


Albert J. Horn


Carr, McClellan, Ingersoll,

Thompson & Horn PC


Bill Somerville, President


Philanthropic Ventures Foundation


Jackie Speier

U.S. Representative

12th District of California
Moira C. Walsh

Attorney and

Philanthropic Advisor


Colburn S. Wilbur

Trustee and Former President, 

David and Lucile Packard Foundation 

Board of Advisors

Janet Camarena

Director, San Francisco Office,

The Foundation Center


Leonard Edwards

Judge-in-Residence, California Administrative Office of the Courts


Kathy Kwan

Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation 


Dien Yuen

Chief Philanthropy Officer,


Want to Know More?


Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, 1222 Preservation Park Way, Oakland CA 94612-1201

Telephone: (510) 645-1890  Fax: (510) 645-1892