The Art of Giving

November 18, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

On November 13, an all-day conference, Fundraising and Philanthropy, How They Impact Education and the City of New York, was held in the Fiterman Hall Conference Center at BMCC.

Presented by BMCC and President Antonio Pérez, in collaboration with NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising and its Executive Director Naomi Levine, the conference was hosted by BMCC VP of Development Doris Holz.

President Pérez gave welcoming remarks, noting that while New York State financial aid to the City University of New York (CUNY), has declined in recent years, philanthropic gifts have increased.

“We are here today to commit to continue that trend,” he said, “to understand it better, and to strengthen our different roles in helping it continue. I would like to make fundraising a priority at BMCC and I hope that this seminar will spark ideas and collaborations.”

Joining the conversation
The conference began with a panel conversation between Chris Riback, host of the ABC radio show, Conversations with Thinkers, and President Pérez.

Their discussion, which focused on community colleges, brought up topics including the role of technology in learning, and graduation rates. The President discussed academic challenges facing many freshmen, and his own experience as a first-generation college student.

“Students who make A’s here would make A’s at any other school,” he said. “Our students are no different from students whose parents are paying $50,000 a year for their tuition—and I want to replicate whatever parents are paying for, at that institution, here.”

Following the panel discussion were presentations by Heyman Center Executive Director Naomi Levine, and NYU law professor and former Assistant Attorney General in charge of the NY State Law Department’s Charities Bureau, William Josephson.

Another speaker was Richard Brown, a clinical professor at the Heyman Center who oversees the Center’s masters degree program and who has served for organizations including Autism Speaks, as well as Heyman Center professors Ruthellen Rubin and Marian Z. Stern, who examined “The Art of the Ask.”

The day’s presentations closed with Marcia Stepanek, an award-winning new media strategist and author of the forthcoming book, Swarms: The Rise of the Digital Anti-Establishment.

A special tribute
After guests enjoyed a buffet luncheon, BMCC VP of Development Doriz Holz presented certificates of recognition to four renowned philanthropists who have set an example for generosity and vision, in New York City and beyond.

She started by honoring Barbara and Donald Jonas, “noted art collectors who auctioned off 15 of their valuable abstract expressionist artworks in 2005, generating $44 million in seed money for the Barbara and Donald Jonas Family Fund.”

Among other endeavors, the Jonas Fund supports students in the field of nursing.

“The future of our health care system is our nurses,” said Barbara Jonas, adding that there will be a “huge shortage of doctors” in the not-so-distant future, making the role of nurses more critical than ever. She was joined at the podium by her husband, Donald Jonas, who spoke of another project, the Joans Veterans Healthcare Program, that the Fund supports.

“We are in the midst of funding wounded veterans,” he said, describing teh Program’s efforts linking nurses with veterans who need their services.

Planting trees
The next philanthropist honored was H. Dale Hemmerdinger, a trustee of NYU and chairman of its Alumni Relations and Public Affairs committees.

Together with NYU President John Sexton, Mr. Hemmerdinger initiated a three-to-one matching campaign to support the university’s scholarship funds.

President of The Hemmerdinger Corporation, he is also a Chairman of the Citizens Budget Committee, a Trustee of the New York City Police Foundation, an Executive Committee Member of the Association for a Better New York and a Partner of the New York City Partnership.

“What I really am, is a student of Naomi Levine,” said Mr. Hemmerdinger in his acceptance remarks, and shared what he described as “the best definition of philanthropy I’ve ever heard: Planting trees under whose shade you will never sit.”

A world of concentric circles
Also honored in the recognition ceremony was Daniel Rose, whose non-profit efforts have resulted in providing fresh drinking water to 12,000 Ashanti villagers in Ghana.

Having created the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership at the Urban Land Institute and the Yale/Technion Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism Program, his most satisfying philanthropic undertaking, he says, has been to form the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, an after-school program in which 100% of its participants graduate from high school.

Mr. Rose, who is well acquainted with the challenges students face accessing higher education, suggested that BMCC focus its message on the fact that “community colleges change lives for those who, absent this opportunity, wouldn’t become the people they could be.”

He also tied social responsibility to a personal story.

“When my father was told it’s a small world, he said, ‘No, it’s a very large world, made of thin, concentric circles’,” Mr. Rose shared, and counterbalanced earlier discussions of fraud in fundraising by quoting the 3rd-century Roman theologist Tertullian: “Any calling is noble, if nobly pursued.”

Naomi Levine and William Josephson: Legends in their field
The final award was presented to iconic fundraiser, Heyman Center Executive Director and former civil rights lawyer, Naomi Levine.

Director Levine—who shared that her age is 90—inspired the day’s participants in talks that applied her considerable lessons learned in the field of fundraising, to today’s challenges.

“In 1978, NYU was bankrupt,” she said, “and today, we raise over $400 million a year.”

Larry Tisch joined the NYU board of directors as president at that time, she said, and was instrumental during that transformation, as were new members anchored in “finance, real estate, insurance—that’s where the big money comes from.”

In fact, she said, “Fundraising became everyone’s job—every faculty member, every dean, every administrator. The deans had a quota, the faculty was judged by their ideas.”

Moving to the topic of higher education, she spoke of the “essential role” of community colleges.

“Minorities today, are majorities tomorrow. These students will be running the country in 20 to 30 years,” she said, and quoted the founders of Harvard University, who asserted the need for “an educated electorate to run a democracy.”

Speaking to new fundraisers in the audience, she stressed the importance of knowing as much as possible about potential donors before meeting with them, and suggested that fundraisers “take with you to those meetings, some of the people who developed the program … Talk about everything in the world—but not your school or money.”

Her point? “The relationship is what matters… There is no substitute for being smart, but you can help yourself by being widely read. Know what’s going on in the world. Don’t just read The Chronicle of Philanthropy, read novels.”

With her colleague, NYU Law Professor William Josephson, she touched on the complexities of ethical issues: “They don’t always involve a right and wrong, but often, two rights.”

Professor Josephson, who served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the New York State Law Department’s Charities Bureau, shared an insider’s perspective on what can happen when good governance—transparency and accountability—is ignored.

Mr. Josephson, who testified to the U.S. Senate Committee of Finance in 2009 on ponzi schemes and charities, wove together the issues of ethics and good governance.

He gave the multi-billion-dollar Bernie Madoff scandal as an example of the worse that can happen when “no one is paying attention,” and reviewed a non-profit board of director’s compelling duty to read audits and other fiduciary reports “line by line”; to disclose, to not conceal, to avoid conflict of interest, and other responsibilities.