"Philanthropist to Philanthropist" featuring Ted Leonsis
By Katy Moore, Director of Member Services Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers
Earlier this month, top philanthropists from around the region came together for one of WRAG’s very popular “Philanthropist to Philanthropist” luncheons. This month’s speaker was Ted Leonsis. In an interview-style session, on his home court at the Verizon Center, Ted shared his passion and commitment for our region, his struggle to be a “better philanthropist,” and his predictions for the next generation of community investors.
Working to be a better philanthropist.
Ted Leonsis plays many, many roles. Entrepreneur, former AOL executive, majority owner of three major sports teams, Emmy Award-winning film maker, youth mentor, board member, author, family man, and philanthropist. Through the Leonsis Foundation, his sports teams, SnagFilms, and his family’s personal giving, Mr. Leonsis has supported almost 400 charities in the last 12 months – a generous number, but one of which he is not especially proud.
“It’s easy to feel like an ATM machine at times,” he admitted. “It just doesn’t make sense. I would never run my businesses the way I run my giving…Many philanthropists in this region are some of the brightest minds in business and yet when it comes to giving, all of our strategy goes out the window.” But this is something he’s working to remedy. As he put it, he’s “working to be a better philanthropist” – that is, to be more strategic, develop clearer goals, and set narrower priorities. The challenge here, as Mr. Leonsis described and as many grantmakers know, is that “going deeper in a few issues means saying no to many others, others you may have supported for a long time.”
We asked Ted: What is your vision for philanthropy in the Greater Washington region? (Click to play)
Of the nearly 400 charities that Mr. Leonsis has supported over the last year, most are serving the Greater Washington region, including Best Buddies, DC Central Kitchen, See Forever Foundation, Venture Philanthropy Partners, DC College Access Program, DC College Success Foundation, Potomac School, and Children’s Hospital. When asked why he chooses to give locally, he said it’s “because there’s a connection… For example, supporting programs that are trying to end homelessness in D.C. – a challenge that seems particularly present as I look out the windows of the Verizon Center - is much more personal and immediate for me than trying to end water shortages in Africa. Both are worthy causes, but I like to see the results and get involved with the causes and organizations I’m supporting.”
And get involved he does. In fact, earlier this month he served as the corporate chairman for the Alliance for Lupus Research’s 10th Annual “Walk with Us to Cure Lupus” on the National Mall. This wasn’t your typical “figure head” chairmanship. Mr. Leonsis organized, supported, and championed the event. He showed up early, stayed late, and led his team (all in Capitals red, of course) from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument and back again to raise over $200,000 for Lupus research. And this is just one example of the energy and passion he puts into the organizations and causes he supports.
Predictions for the future.
When Ted Leonsis (who is one of the minds behind such groundbreaking companies as AOL, Groupon, and SnagFilms) makes predictions for the future, you tend to sit up and listen. He has an uncanny ability to connect seemingly disparate bits of information to predict societal trends. For example, he said, “We’re currently in a ‘sharing economy.’ From the sharing of information through outlets such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to the sharing of bargains through Groupon, to the sharing of personal property through outlets such as ZipCar, Netflix, iTunes, and Capital Bikeshare, the current generation is growing up with this as their reality.”
When asked about the future of philanthropy, he said three simple words: “Social. Local. Mobile.” More specifically, he predicts that the next generation of philanthropists – those who have grown up with technology, social media, and a constant barrage of real-time information – will connect to causes and approach giving and impact reporting in a very different, more social, and more immediate way than the generation before them. This new, high-tech generation will challenge the nonprofit world to innovate and change the way it connects with donors.
About the Series
WRAG’s “Philanthropist to Philanthropist” luncheons are exclusively for family philanthropists in the Greater Washington region. These invitation-only events provide a rare opportunity for philanthropists to openly share their giving challenges, successes, and failures, and learn from their peers. For more information, contact Katy Moore at 202-939-3436 or
1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 740
Washington, DC 20036 |