This month, Alice Buhl will step down as Senior Fellow of the National Center for Family Philanthropy after more than 24 years of service in one leadership capacity or another. Most of Alice’s contributions have been, by her choice, quiet and uncelebrated. But this transition means that I get to throw caution (her wishes!) to the wind and offer a not-so-quiet celebration of all she has done to advance the practice of family philanthropy.
In the early 1990s, Alice was among a small group who contributed to concept papers and participated in focus groups designed to consider the establishment of a national resource center for giving families. Her experience as a nonprofit executive, executive director of a regional association of grantmakers, senior vice president of the Council on Foundations, and one of the most highly regarded consultants to family foundations made her the perfect choice. Her generosity, humility, and courage made her willing.
She served as a founding NCFP Board member, and helped to design the governance strategy and composition that would serve the organization well, not only in its infancy but over the course of an exciting, demanding future. She took on the Generations of Giving leadership role, shepherding the first significant social science research to focus on family foundation development. It would define the NCFP research agenda for quality, credible, and practical information discovery and sharing.
In 2004, Alice stepped down as a board member to lead Pursuit of Excellence, a self-assessment tool for family foundations that built on Generations of Giving. She accepted the opportunity to serve as the first NCFP Senior Fellow. In that capacity, she would contribute to our intellectual content, provide leadership to key research and publication efforts, and be available to support the program development of staff. She went on to advise research projects including the CEO study, Trends in Family Philanthropy, and the first Profile of Family Foundations work.
As author, she’s written nine blog posts and four Passages Issue Briefs, covering everything from generations sharing leadership, to the critical role of the board chair, to mothers and legacy. As a speaker, she’s participated wherever and whenever she was asked: eight webinars; every national forum; and many more.
As Senior Fellow, she inspired the expansion of the Fellows program, welcoming and mentoring the first Distinguished Fellow (Susan Packard Orr) and Fellows Katherine Lorenz and Doug Bitonti Stewart. She serves to this day on that Leadership Initiative and paved the way for current Distinguished Fellow, Mary Mountcastle, and Fellows June Wilson and Kelly Nowlin.
An extraordinary and impressive resume to be sure.
But were you to ask NCFP staff what they value most about her service, they would say, without question, it is her work behind the scenes. She has given staff unlimited access to her wisdom, experience, and encouragement. She has been the calm voice of reason and the creative strategist whenever anxiety (often) flared. No one has been the beneficiary of her counsel and uncommon common sense more than me. No matter the day or time of day, she has been there to vet a crazy idea, talk me through countless dilemmas, tell me that life isn’t fair, and remind me that I can be wonderful if not perfect. No matter the personal or professional triumph or trauma, she has played a much-valued part.
Although the last phase of her professional career has been as a consultant/advisor, every contribution on behalf of NCFP has been given pro bono. In fact, she has been a generous donor to NCFP in every year since the beginning.
Alice has been trying to retire from that consulting practice for a number of years and a few clients just won’t let her go. I share their hesitancy and fear. I’ve already made sure she will never retire from her almost 40-year role as my mentor, champion, kick-in-the-pants giver, and dear, dear friend. Let’s hope the next NCFP Senior Fellow does just a fraction of the good Alice has done.
Virginia M. Esposito
President, National Center for Family Philanthropy
Ginny Esposito will step down as NCFP president at the end of the year and become the new National Center for Family Philanthropy Senior Fellow.