A Tribute to Peter Karoff, Father of Philanthropic Advising

Credit: vanderwalker

H. Peter Karoff is regarded as the ‘father of philanthropic advising’. He founded The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) in 1989 to promote strategic philanthropy – to match wealth to need; to increase the impact of philanthropy in society.

For 25 years, under Peter’s direction, TPI became a leader in the world of philanthropy and was admired by many, including me. When I started learning about philanthropic advising, TPI was the firm to study and learn from. At that time, TPI was the only firm that published philanthropic research on working with professional advisors and trends around the world, including Asia.

The following describes Peter best:

Whether working with individual donor and families or large foundations and corporations, Peter employed empathy and wisdom to align donor goals and values with historically underserved communities and populations, and with projects that sought to advance the human condition through art and culture.

Peter published two books, Just Money: A Critique of Contemporary American Philanthropy and The World We Want: New Dimensions in Philanthropy & Social Change. However, he was known most for being a poet – or as I like to think of him – a “poet of philanthropy”.

Peter shared many inspiring perspectives that are what I consider good teachings for those interested in the field of philanthropy advising. On Karaoff Corner, you can find some of his works, including There’s A Certain Slant of Light. In it, Peter points out some of the common themes he hears from philanthropists when they talk about their giving – and these are powerful feelings.

In 2008, Peter addressed the Indiana Grantmakers Allianace after the economic crisis. Since that time, his advice on how philanthropy should act, whether there is a crisis or not, is still relevant today. He urges philanthropists and grantmakers to:

Think about assets more creatively. Individual donors and foundations have discretionary assets that they can use in creative ways to address issues. He calls it the “freest money”.

Collaborate on a larger scale than you have ever before. Work with government, corporations, individual donors and community leaders need to be taken to a greater scale. We need to expand the community interest beyond who is involved now. A call for increase in service volunteerism – of seniors and young people is needed.

Take more risks. Peter says: don’t be constraint from taking risks by excessive reliance on data and measurement results; don’t confuse rigor with relevance. Philanthropy relevance is grounded in purpose, role, mission, in essence it’s moral imagination. Work that imagination beyond what you previously thought possible.

Stretch. Donors, foundations and corporations need to stretch and dig deeper. Peter quotes James Wallace, philosopher: true generosity is when a gift is of significant value to the giver. In other words, it should hurt a little. If it didn’t then you are probably not stretched.

Peter passed away earlier this year in March. This Sunday, there is a memorial service in Boston.

Peter’s work lives on in many ways. He was truly a pioneer and inspired the growth and expansion of the philanthropic sector.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *