Arabella Advisors’ CEO, Sampriti Ganguli, recently sat down with Denver Frederick of “The Business of Giving” radio show to discuss philanthropic advising and how Arabella helps philanthropists go from idea to impact. Below are a few excerpts from their conversation.
On The Challenge of Giving
Denver: Maybe some listeners are asking: Well, how hard can it be to give money away? But, of course, I remember Warren Buffet saying that it was a lot easier for him to make his money than to give his money away. Why is it so hard to give away money to charity?
Sampriti: It’s hard for three reasons. At a tactical level, there’s actually a lot of laws and regulations and compliance around giving, and not all donors essentially know that. I think it’s hard at a philosophical level, being able to separate out your heart – what compels you to give emotionally – from the rational decision to give is actually two very different muscles that individuals are flexing. And the third is: it’s really hard to prioritize depending on one’s perspective. There are a lot of urgent problems that we need to solve, many of which have a very long time horizon on the solution set, and so coming up with a prioritized list can actually be very challenging. Also, it’s also not easy to consistently measure social and environmental outcomes.
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On Big Bets and Big Builds
Denver: In the philanthropy world, everyone talks about “big bets.” You don’t do that so much. You talk about “big builds.” What’s the difference?
Sampriti: My perspective is that the field of philanthropy has no shortage of good ideas. So it’s long on ideas, but short on execution capacity, and that’s really what big builds are.
So, as donors talk about increasingly $100 million, $200 million types of philanthropic initiatives, what is the infrastructure that is necessary to get that done? You asked me earlier why it’s hard to give money. Part of it is nonprofits don’t have the wherewithal to very quickly receive such large sums of money. They don’t always have the capacity on the ready to be able to put that to good work. They’ve got a great vision, but when the rubber meets the road, they don’t have enough people; they don’t have enough bodies to execute on that.
So, big builds are really about having the right infrastructure to carry out a vision of a philanthropist, and we believe that that is as important as the big idea that they’re bringing to bear.
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On Perpetuating and Confronting Inequities and Implicit Bias
Denver: Let’s turn our attention to the field of philanthropy for a moment. Some of the core practices that we go about may unwittingly be leading funders to perpetuate the inequities that they’re trying to eliminate. Now, do you see this implicit bias, and if so, what can be done to address it?
Sampriti: I think there’s a very real conversation around implicit bias in philanthropy for good reasons. One is, we are seeing a high concentration of wealth in the 1% of the 1%, and I think there’s a very natural and real question around the power that those individuals have with their very large gifts and grants. And so, I think the optics of “How large is my grant? What does that do to the power dynamic with my grantee organization?” is an important conversation to have, so that donors don’t unwittingly exercise greater voice and influence than they may wish to have.
I think the second is “How do we do our grant making?” So, for example, we see donors that say, “I want to get money out to front-line grassroots organizations. But I have a due diligence process that requires three years of audited financials, and you have to fill out my grant report in English, when in fact, we’re trying to advance causes led by Latino communities,” as an example. So, there’s some very stylized processes that need to change in order for us to get rid of this implicit bias.
I think the last thing I would say is representation. I walk into a room, and when I hear about people saying, “How do we affect communities of color?” and there’s not a single person of color in the room, that’s like check number one to say, “Maybe we’ve got a bigger problem here.”
The interesting part of philanthropy is it’s a pretty clubby field. The bad part of philanthropy is it’s a really clubby field. So I always encourage our donors to say, “How do you look beyond your obvious networks? How do you get comfortable going into rooms where you’re not the representative of everyone else there to actually have that conversation?” I’ve really admired Jeff Raikes from afar, who I think is having very, very honest conversations about that. So I am cautiously optimistic that the conversations are being had. But it’s a field that’s a little slow to change. There’s not an urgency. And so, it will take some time, I think, to make those changes.
Just one other side note, like many fields, there is a generational transfer in the executives that are managing large foundations. And I am seeing those changes to a certain extent based on who’s coming into the foundation today. So, I’m optimistic that there will be new energy and new ideas coming into the sector.
*Spoken responses have been amended for clarity.