Photo courtesy of Peter Fitzpatrick for AL DÍA News
As of Wednesday, Dec. 9, Pedro Ramos was exactly 131 days into his tenure as president and CEO of The Philadelphia Foundation.
The lawyer and former managing director of the City of Philadelphia mentioned this several times during an AL DÍA event held in his honor that evening, where he gave a keynote and participated in a Q&A with Sabrina Vourvoulias, managing editor of AL DÍA.
Ramos, the first Latino to head the organization, spoke at length about how growing up in a heavily Latino community in Olney shaped his interest in philanthropy. He said his earliest memory of acting philanthropically was volunteering with his parents to help needy neighbors — despite his own family receiving assistance from organizations like Casa Del Carmen and Catholic Social Services.
It was about “doing what you’re ‘supposed’ to do, regardless of your means,” he said.
During his speech and Q&A, Ramos made it clear that while he didn’t have all the answers — he had only been doing this professionally for 131 days, after all — he did have some ideas for improving the philanthropy sector in Philadelphia. Here’s what he had to say about diversity in the Philly giving scene, nonprofit capacity building and how to reach millennials.
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On what he likes most about the nonprofit sector:
- “It’s a sector where we don’t just have to think about the next quarter, as we do in business, or the next year as we do in government and some types of law practice. It’s an opportunity to think in terms of generations. We’re helping people think of how they work in their community through many generations, and what we can do now to make this community a better place five to 10 years from now, 25 years from now.”
On working to increase diversity in philanthropy:
- “Occasionally people will say, ‘What did you do? What are you doing to open the door? What are you doing to be more inclusive? But really, folks, we’re it. We’re the ones who have to open the doors, we’re the ones who have to make sure the ladder is there.”
- “I think we have to spend time outside of our comfort zone bringing people into the work, which is really hard when you’re working like crazy just to get the work done.”
On how to get Latinos involved in giving in the formal philanthropic sense:
- “Latinos are philanthropic by nature. The question is, what institutions and what way? My parents were very low-income and working all the time. They would find ways to volunteer to do things for neighbors because, that’s what you do. So, I think we have our own cultural framework for doing this.”
On how foundations can support Latino-led organizations:
- “At the end of the day, what’s going to determine how focused private foundations or foundations in general are on the community is the extent to which those who have the opportunity to do it ourselves [can] build philanthropy within our community.”
- “For me, capacity building is giving the organizations the opportunity to identify ways of becoming stronger. What it should not be is, ‘I’m going to tell you what to do in your community.”
- “Sometimes [organizations] become used to adversity, you become pretty good at keeping things going, and that should not be what we expect as the norm for community-based arts and culture organizations.”
On capacity building:
- There comes a point when you realize it’s “not just about your organizational capacity building, but the search for social capital, political capital. It’s just as important as your search for financial capital. You have to go extend your networks beyond the immediate.”
- “Take the time from the immediate to plant the seeds and cultivate. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s a body of work that has to be built into how we do what we do in running nonprofit organizations. You can’t just put out fires all the time. You have to make part of the work the planting, the cultivation. It’s the only way to get to harvest.”
On how millennials will change philanthropy:
- “The challenge is with millennials, they’re operating outside of institutions, and the challenge long-term I think is, one, how do we engage that way?”
- “If they’re not connected to institutions or [organizations] in the community that are established to do this [philanthropic work], it’s just going to fall out. It’s going to be like printed newspapers, right? It’s just going to cease.”
- We have to “create positions for them to grow in our organizations, on boards, because the one network that these millennials have — even though it’s not an institution — is each other. They’re connected to each other. So, if you want to be connected to millennials as a group, you need some millennials in the organization.”
On developing a nonprofit board:
- “I’ve been encouraging people to take a page from the book of for-profit [boards], in that in the for-profit arena, at least in the good organizations, what a CEO values most is other people who have walked in their shoes. The most valuable directors on business boards are executives — people who are in their space in some way. And I think on nonprofit boards, we’re very focused on compliance, which is important, focused on donors, which is important. But I think there’s been a resistance to bring other nonprofit executives onto our nonprofit boards, and that’s a type of collaboration that is really core on the for-profit business side.”
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