David Carrington

Influential reader

David says:

“Being invited to reflect on what writing has inspired me, and shaped my thinking on the use and management of philanthropic funds and resources, must be a bit like trying to draw up a list for Desert Island Discs. It made me spend part of the last day of 2010 working my way around my office, poking along the shelves piled high with books and reports which cover three of the four walls, rediscovering some material I had not touched for years but also seeing how well thumbed are some key publications.

I realised that almost all were journal articles, reports and papers, rather than books. They contain writing that, when first discovered, had sparked in me a new insight or thought, or reinforced at just the right time an idea that was forming. I also realised how much my thinking about how philanthropic funds could be best invested and distributed has been influenced by papers and reports written by (and conversations with) friends and colleagues.

Notable amongst these are Steve Viederman on Fiduciary Duty, Jed Emerson on Blended Value, Luther R Ragin of the F B Heron Foundation, Melissa Berman and her colleagues at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Lucy Bernholz’s blog Philanthropy 2173Ed Skloot at Duke University, Julia Unwin’s The Grantmaking Tango and the twin papers on arts funding by John Knell (Art of Dying and Art of Living) for Mission, Models, Money, and many more.

I thought that trying to pin down just three that have been especially influential would be very difficult, but three names kept surfacing: Clara Miller, Katherine Fulton and Shirley Otto – each for very different reasons.

Clara is president and CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NPFF). Together with colleagues she has produced a series of reports (and made lots of investments), which have demonstrated how philanthropic funds can strengthen the financial health and resilience of charities and community organisations. The paper from the NPFF ‘stable’ which has had the greatest influence on my own thinking is Building is not Buying, which was authored by Clara’s colleague George Overholser, the founder and managing director of NFF Capital Partners. This short paper sets out with wonderful clarity the difference between how philanthropic funds can be used, in effect, as equity to ‘build’ the growth capital and sustainability of a charitable or social enterprise, in contrast to the use of most philanthropic funds to ‘buy’ some charitable activity.

My second ‘influential writer’ is Katherine Fulton, president of the Monitor Institute

The timing of when I come across a specific new article or report can have profound impact on the value I derive from reading it, and that was certainly the case with the publication in 2005 of a series of papers prepared within a project on the future of philanthropy that Katherine led. Looking Out for the Future and Cultivating Change in Philanthropy pulled together trends and possibilities in a splendidly comprehensive and challenging way, helping me to lift my thinking up and beyond preoccupation with how philanthropic funds are used and organised currently, and to imagine and explore how much more could be achieved.

More recently (July 2010), working with her Monitor Institute colleagues Barbara Kibbe and Gabriel Kasper, Katherine has written What’s Next for Philanthropy – Acting Bigger and Adapting Better in a Networked World, which is another wonderfully cogent appraisal of how philanthropic resources could be used if we ‘raise the bar’ and break away from some of the cautious and orthodox practice which is so deeply rooted in so much contemporary philanthropic activity.

I’ve been as concerned with the management and governance of charitable organisations as I have with how charitable funds are used, which brings me to my third writer, Shirley Otto, and to something she wrote way back in 1985. Shirley is a hugely influential guide and mentor to many people who seek to enhance standards of management and organisational leadership in the charity and related civil society sectors. I first worked with her in the 1970s and can still recall lessons learnt from those early encounters that I have applied throughout my subsequent ‘career’ as a trustee and charity executive. In 1985 (in partnership with Christine Holloway), Shirley wrote a handbook on running voluntary organisations called Getting Organised.

I still have my copy and still refer to it in preference to many other more recently published guides. Many of the tactics I have used in my participation in Board meetings, and in helping foundations and charities with organisational reviews and strategy planning sessions, owe their origins to the clear and eminently straightforward practical suggestions brought together in that publication. More recent wisdom from Shirley Otto is contained in the sharply observed ‘charity soap’ that she contributes to the journal Governance.

This wander around my hopelessly badly organised bookshelves has reinforced how much of my learning and endeavours are the product of reading the work of, and conversations with, colleagues and friends who – in different ways – have been trying to work out how philanthropic resources can be most inspirationally and sustainably applied to complex and challenging tasks; and how enjoyable and continually refreshing those conversations and that reading can be.”


David Carrington
David Carrington has been an independent consultant since 2001, drawing on 25 years experience of senior management positions in charities (the last 13 as Chief Executive) and Board member experience with over a dozen organisations, including a University, the Media Trust, Alliance Publishing Trust, the National Foundation for Youth Music and the New Opportunities Fund. I have also been chair of the editorial group of the Philanthropy UK e-newsletter and a member of the Social Investment Task Force and of the Commission on Unclaimed Assets.

Carrington is a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Effective Philanthropy. He is also a member of the Supervisory Board of Triodos Bank NV.

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