Five Questions for Doug Bitonti Stewart
Anniversaries are times for reflection on and celebration of the past, as well as an opportunity to imagine the future. As the National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) celebrates our 25th anniversary, we are speaking with community members about their reflections on the evolutions of their own philanthropy, the sector, and NCFP as well as their hopes for the future.
Doug Bitonti Stewart is the executive director off the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and a former NCFP Fellow. Recently NCFP sat down with him to talk about his reflections on the evolution of NCFP and the field.
1. How did you first get involved in philanthropy?
Outside of raising money as a child for UNICEF during my trick or treating, my first real exposure to philanthropy was in college. After failing to succeed in pre-med and finding myself in business school, a friend told me about a job at the development fund for the university. While I didn’t know what development was at the time, after a few years of serving in that role part time, I found a new way to accomplish my pre-med dreams of serving medical caregivers, advocates, researchers, and educators by helping them raise money.
For the first 15 years of my career, I worked for universities and children’s hospitals until I received a call to consider becoming the first executive director for the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. While I didn’t know then what it would take to launch a new family foundation, I knew I wanted to learn alongside the Fisher family. It has been 15 years since I started that role, and I couldn’t be happier with all the lessons we have learned together.
2. As you think about the broader philanthropic field, what strikes you as the biggest changes or evolutions?
We are now recognizing the role foundation endowment investments—the money we have in the market focused on growing the grant budget each year—play in either contributing to or helping to alleviate the issues we face together. I’ll never forget how excited I was when Luther Ragin from the F.B. Heron Foundation asked a group of us during a conference, “Should foundations simply be private investment houses that give away 5% each year? Or could we be more?” That, and the passion of our trustees, sent us on a learning path that started as forgivable loans to impact organizations and has now resulted in nearly $12 million in impact investments and in December 2020 our board passed a motion to fully align our assets with our values.
As the market becomes more and more transparent, I believe impact investing will continue to play an increasing role and it will become less of a practice by a few and instead will become a necessity for us all to ensure we are contributing to solutions on both sides of the balance sheet.
3. What do you see as the role of NCFP?
What an amazing help NCFP was in my initial days. Its role in supporting families and their professionals has been instrumental to hundreds if not thousands of families. NCFP’s team has contributed to the research base of best practices and assisted in the maturation of the field of family philanthropy broadly.
NCFP members support one another. This peer support and networking are critical to our shared learning and should play a larger role to advance our practice and justice. The Fisher Foundation was also thrilled to connect NCFP Founding President Ginny Esposito and her team to a group of leaders in Israel to help form a Center for Family Philanthropy there and its impact is increasing year after year. And, NCFP continues to work in partnership with other organizations to build a stronger philanthropy-serving infrastructure.
4. What are you most excited about?
As overly optimistic as this may sound, I believe we are just beginning to see a change in the way we view and even define the economy. In the future, instead of relying on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to assess the strength of state or nation, instead of viewing for-profit entities through the lens of profit and loss alone we will begin to see the creation of new drivers such as a Gross Domestic Opportunity or Equity Index, we will see business professionals looking at profit, loss, and impact statements to take full account of their impact whether positive or negative.
Impact investing and innovations like the Social Progress Imperative, or the Opportunity Index are already in place to help us measure and value much more than just what we produce. Researchers and practitioners have developed Impact Weighted Accounting to take full account of an enterprise’s impact on our world.
Whether it is from Adam Smith, or Maynard Keynes, or Milton Friedman’s approach, major shifts in economic thinking have happened over time and I believe this is one of those times.
5. What’s your bold call for action for your peers?
Beyond what I have shared already with respect to impact investing—I have another call to action I would love for my peers to consider.
I believe no one should be defined by what they are not. For-profit enterprises are defined by what they value the most—why are the organizations and leaders who have dedicated their lives to the work of repairing our world have to be defined as not-for or nonprofit?
Does anyone in our field wake up in the morning to avoid having revenues over expenses? Or do they wake up in the morning to make a positive impact? If the for-profit sector was defined by what they were not, we’d call them not-for-loss organizations.
Let’s find a new way to celebrate what we are instead of what we are not in relation to our sister sector. I am more excited about the opportunity for a new name to drive more talent to our work than my particular choice of monikers. However, my choice is “for-impact.”
So, I am imploring my peers to come up with their own solution to this so we can honor our proactive and vital role in society!
Doug Bitonti Stewart is the executive director of the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation and a former NCFP Fellow.
The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.