Headshot of Sylvia Brown

Sylvia Brown

Founder and President, Sylvia Brown Smart Donors

Leveraging her family’s 300-year philanthropic legacy and her own 35 years of experience in the charitable sector, Sylvia Brown, CAP® is a passionate advocate of thoughtful and effective giving. After earning her BS and MA degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Sylvia pursued a career in international development from Wall Street to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, from investment promotion campaigns in emerging markets to micro-finance initiatives on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In 2007, a course in strategic philanthropy at The Philanthropy Workshop (established by the Rockefeller and Hewlett Foundations) sparked her new mission to promote affordable donor education. For the past decade, she has helped donors with their giving strategies and public charities with their sustainability, while becoming certified by Board Source (non-profit board governance), 21/64 (multigenerational advising) and For Impact/The Suddes Group (fundraising).

  • In 2015, Sylvia launched Uplifting Journeys, “boot camps for smarter donors” in destinations around the world.
  • In 2017, she published “Grappling With Legacy – Rhode Island’s Brown Family and the American Philanthropic Impulse,” a history of charitable giving in America, told through the story of one family over 300 years.
  • In 2018, she was certified as a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) and was selected as an Encore Public Voices Fellow at the OpEd Project in the inaugural 2018/2019 cohort.
  • In 2020, she continued her research into the charitable giving practices of small and midlevel donors, collaborating with Dr. Cal Halvorsen of Boston College’s School of Social Work to conduct a study of 1,200 donors who give between $2,000 and $20,000 annually.  She also launched her three-hour, virtual donor education course, “Smart Donors…Make a Difference,” to empower individuals to make more thoughtful and effective charitable giving decisions.
  • In 2021, Sylvia’s virtual donor education course became international with a British version, ThinkingGiving.
  • In 2022, the Smart Donor… Make a Difference family expanded further with a course for Americans seeking to donate overseas, developed in partnership with NEID Global, the Network of Engaged International Donors.


International Grantmaking: Trusting Relationships are Critical to Success

Posted on March 10, 2023 by Ashley Barrett, Sylvia Brown, Jenny Kelly, Kimberly Myers Hewlett

Systemic challenges, such as climate change, racial justice and gender equity, exist beyond the borders of the United States. Philanthropic families seeking to ramp up their international giving face a variety of challenges and opportunities, including identifying partner organizations and building trusting relationships with them. Join us to learn how to be an effective international funder and concrete steps to… Read More