Dena Kimball and David Brotherton on the Kendeda Fund’s Epic Journey – Transcript
Kirk: Welcome to Let’s Hear It.
Eric: Let’s Hear It is a podcast for and about the field of foundation and nonprofit communications produced by its two co-hosts, Eric Brown and Kirk Brown. No relation.
Kirk: Well said, Eric. And I’m Kirk.
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Eric: So, let’s get onto the show.
Kirk: And you’re back. Welcome in. We’re glad you found us. Welcome in out of the rain.
Eric: If you were at Burning Man.
Kirk: Oh my gosh. [00:01:00] Grab a seat, clean yourself off, scrape the mud off your shoes,
Eric: scrape the mud off your soul. People. Oh man. They’re burning.
Kirk: Anyway, many thoughts to the catastrophe that became Burning Man.
Have you ever gotten a Burning Man? By the way?
Eric: No, no, no. Wild horses. No.
Kirk: So, so let’s jump into it cause you’ve got a good one. And this is actually one of our, we’re running a series now of people that don’t have anything to sell you. And, uh, and, and nobody here has tried to sell you anything. Nobody here has tried to convince you anything, but there are great stories and there’s great strategy to reflect on.
So tell us what’s ahead. Eric, this is another good one. Oh, let’s hear it.
Eric: We’re not going to sell, but we’ll lease with an option to buy. And this episode we speak, I speak with Dena Kimball, who is the executive director of the Kendeda Fund. which is one of the foundations that was started with the Home Depot fortune.
Who’s the ex wife of Arthur Blank, the Home Depot guy. And Dena Kimball is the executive director and the daughter of the founder of the Kendeda Fund. And we have an extra [00:02:00] special guest joining us in this conversation, David Brotherton of Brotherton Strategies, but who has also been advising the Kendeda Fund for many years on grant making and communications.
So, the three of us. joined together on location. So we’re not on zoom. We’re actually in a room together like humans. It’s incredible, which was great fun to talk about the Kendeda
Fund, which is Spending up or spending out or spending down or spending over it is going out of business. And actually, as we go to air in mid September of 2023, the new website for the Kendeda funds, what it has learned will, I hope be.
Live so that you can go over there and check out the many lessons that they are gathering. They will have a podcast as well, which should be really terrific. So they’re doing a wonderful job of talking about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what they’ve learned. And I’m glad
Kirk: you, you called that out.
So of course the founder here is Diana blank. [00:03:00] Diana brings in Dena Kimball to help. Create this spend down strategy for over a billion dollars, which is one of the reasons why we’re not trying to sell you anything, right? The Kendeda foundation is just trying to tell you what this experience was, share their stories.
I do want to talk about this podcast briefly before we get to the interview. It’s stories from the Kendeda Fund. You can find it on the website. There’s been great write ups about it at the Chronicle of Philanthropy and by the funders. Network, but check it out. One of the reasons we started this podcast is we wanted to tell more stories about people in this field and to see a foundation picking this up and saying, Hey, let’s memorialize what we learned in big call out to David here, who I’m sure had something in the background to do with this podcast coming live.
And you’ve got a good one. If you can find somebody who can lead your comms plus lead your gun violence prevention strategy. And David has been doing both of those things terrifically for Kendeda for years. So this is a really great conversation. This is Dena Kimball and David Brotherton on let’s hear it.
Eric: to Let’s Hear It. My guests today are Dena [00:04:00] Kimball, the executive director of the Kendeda Fund, and David Brotherton, fund advisor and, or director of communications, possibly factotum, would that be appropriate? All of the above. Maybe some other things. Uh, thank you to the both of you for coming in and talking to us.
David: happy to be here today. Yeah. Eric, great to sit down with you.
Eric: Thanks. I know I get to sit down with David Brotherton in a professional setting, which is a strange and scary experience, but we, you know, we’ll do the best we can. Welcome to my
Dena: world, Eric.
Eric: Better you than me is all I can say, Dena.
David: Guys, I’m right here.
Eric: I have no idea who he is. I heard a noise. Well, we’re here today because Kendeda Fund is going out of business. Thanks. Thanks. It’s the shorter version of it. Some people say spending down, some people say sun setting. We have all sorts of wonderful names for what happens. But this is one of the rare occasions of a foundation that decides to do its work within a specific period of [00:05:00] time and then not.
And so I, I just wanted to ask you, Dena, if you could just give us a little background on the Kendeda Fund, how it got started, what you set out to accomplish. And then we’ll get into the, all the joys and excitements about what you’re going through right
Dena: now. Amazing. I love it. Okay. The background on Kendeda.
So the Kendeda Fund is really a… 30 year giving journey. It was founded by my mother, Diana Blank. The source of her wealth came from the Home Depot. My father, Arthur Blank, was one of the founders of the Home Depot. And in her late forties, early fifties, my mom found herself in a place she never thought she would be in, which is.
She’s divorced and very wealthy. To be honest, neither of those things are things that she sought out for in her life. I don’t think anyone’s ever really happy to be divorced necessarily, although um, The Wealth Part Two was really uncomfortable for her. And she really was forced to sort of grapple with this [00:06:00] situation that she never expected to be in and thus sort of began.
A long philanthropic journey that was really three phases. I think early on you had a very tentative philanthropist. There was no Kendeda Fund. It was very anonymous checkbook giving really with the aid of a wealth advisor to sort of local organizations that she heard about. About 10 years in, she decided to put a light structure around her philanthropy.
She created the Kendeda Fund. Everyone always wants to know where we got the name. It’s my older brother, Ken, Kenneth, myself, Dee, Dena, and then my little sister, Danielle, Duh. So, Kendeda is named after her, her three children. That was a way for my mom to… Give a personal connection to the family, but also to maintain her anonymity, which was incredibly important for her.
And so that sort of second 10 years of her giving was still very anonymous, a very light structure. She had one consultant. She gave more toward giving in Atlanta, giving in Montana, where she. [00:07:00] And then a burgeoning interest in environmental work, which was very much a part of her background as a child, the kind of healing power of nature.
A lot of times spent on Long Island with her grandmother, foraging for mushrooms and shucking oysters and all of that connection to nature really came forth in that second phase of her philanthropy. And then in the third phase, the final 10 years or so I joined in, she asked me to come help her out if I would.
And I was. I’m honored and happy to do that. And we established a little more structure around the giving. She also decided that she was comfortable sort of shedding her anonymity at that point. And we have established seven more formal giving programs. We now have a bigger staff than we had at the time.
We have about six full time staff members, but are still relatively small. And this year, as you noted, is our final year. Of giving, we call it spending out, which has felt like the right phase for us. I mean, it’s been a really remarkable journey. It’ll be over about 1 billion in grant making that [00:08:00] she’ll have made in 30 years.
Eric: That’s incredible. It is funny. I’ve foraged for subway tokens in Queens. So I really feel a kinship with your mom. I, um, so it’s interesting. We, I’ve seen a number of foundations that went from anonymous to not anonymous. Barr is a good example. And there are a number of others. And I’m just curious about what does coming out of a non anonymity do for a foundation?
Dave and I are communications folks, and we think, you know, more communication, the better, not always. But in this instance, it feels like Kendeda had an opportunity to use its voice in a different way once it wasn’t anonymous. Maybe David can kick that off.
David: Yeah, it’s funny you mention Barr, because you may or may not remember, I was one of the consultants that they brought in when they were getting ready to go from anonymous to not.
And I helped them think through what were the communications implications of that choice. And it turned out to work. Swimmingly for them, there were certainly some challenges and hiccups [00:09:00] shifting grant focus going kind of all in on climate and some other things cause some internal challenges for grantees, but they, they weathered it well.
And I think are exponentially stronger because of it. Well, that experience was partly what attracted Kendeda to find me when they did shortly after Dena had come on. They were getting ready to make what was at that time, and maybe still is, the biggest single gift in the Foundation’s history, which was a 30 million grant to Georgia Tech to build the South’s greenest building.
But there was a bunch of stuff that was happening. In addition to that, Diana… Was more comfortable in her own skin. She was, I think, splitting her time between Montana and Atlanta. She was just feeling more empowered in her posture in the world. And I think recognized that most importantly, that that big gift and grants, which would follow, we’re going to not have the leverage and impact.[00:10:00]
That they could, if she was still hiding behind the curtain, not to mention it was sort of fast becoming the worst kept secret in Atlanta. A lot of people knew it was just, everyone was agreeing not to talk about who she was. All of that adds up to how we approached. Helping Kendeda step out into the light, the masterful sort of way with which Diana came out, tipped her hat, acknowledged the work she was doing and why it mattered, introduced Dena as the new leader of the fund was done in such a way in a story in the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
That it opened the lid, not in such a way that it put permanent pressure on Diana. She was unable to sort of step back into her old self, let Dena be empowered to run the foundation for the next decade. And it worked very well for us. And I think that’s when the first website came around. That’s when we established a social media presence, all the things you do as a communicator to help an organization.[00:11:00] Use its voice most effectively, we started doing, but that was all new to Kendeda. So it took time to find our stride, find our voice, understand where we wanted to lean in or lean back. And we’ve continued to refine and tinker, of course, over the last 10 years, but I think it’s, we’re in a place now where.
The choice was clearly the right one. We wouldn’t be able to be sitting here with you today if we were still anonymous. Well, you could, but
Eric: we just couldn’t say anything. It’d be a very quiet interview.
Dena: I have a funny story about that, which is when Diana first established a fund at the Tides Foundation, they had said it was an anonymous donor and her wealth advisor had said, let’s just call her for the purposes right now.
Mrs. Blank and, uh, being clever that, that worked for a little while. I want to just touch on maybe just two things related to David’s really great answer. One was we had done a grantee effectiveness survey with the Center for Effective Philanthropy a few years before I came on and there was. A lot of [00:12:00] good tidbits in there, a lot of positive feedback, but one of the things we did see was that our grantees were saying, gosh, thank you for everything you do, and if you could do one additional thing, it would be to be out there a little bit more leveraging your voice on our behalf.
How that has played out, I mean, I think in the last 10 years, our, we established a portfolio in Atlanta on racial equity. In 2015, and our fund advisor at the time, Tanae Traylor, her approach was to stand up a lot of very new and nascent organizations and BIPOC leaders, some of whom, most of whom had not been invested in significantly by the more traditional Atlanta philanthropy.
And one of her very explicit goals was to, over the course of, you know, seven, eight years. to get those organizations operationally strong enough and ready to receive those infusions, but also just reputationally be in a place where they were, quote unquote, de risked for more traditional philanthropy [00:13:00] elements.
And I, we obviously couldn’t have done that being anonymous and being so behind the scenes. So just, you know, one specific example of where I think it’s hopefully not just served us well. Uh, least important is that, but really that it served our grantees well by having done so. Yeah.
Eric: Well, you certainly can’t be anonymous if you’re spending out because you have to tell people what your plans are.
Can you tell us a little bit about that way of thinking? Was this something that you? Always knew you were going to do, is it something that came along when you decided that there were opportunities that you didn’t want to pass up and that that was the strategy to get you there? When
Dena: Diana started, you know, when my mom started, that was not, limited life was not part of her lexicon.
She was definitely not focused on what the next 30 years would look like. I do think from the very beginning, she never thought of this money as her legacy and, uh, was very sensitive even from the beginning about involving her kids, wanting us to be able to go out and live our own life. So I think that the kernels [00:14:00] of spendout were sort of always there, but that wasn’t really formalized until maybe, you know, 20 years in, 15 years in.
She has a great deal of urgency. There’s huge problems. On the world, obviously, she’s trying to taggle a number of them in her giving areas, and I think she felt also a great deal of urgency to do what she could in her lifetime, trusting and knowing that there would be others who would take up where she left off.
And I think her relationship with the big L word, legacy, is just a very light one. And she felt like her legacy, quote unquote, would be best served by doing what she could in her lifetime.
Eric: Yeah. So, and our friend, Glenn Galich, has been on this, or as his wife says, Glenn Galich. Glenn and his wife disagree on the pronunciation of his own last name, which I find to be an entertaining little tidbit.
Glenn has People
Dena: say Blank, Blank, you know.
Eric: [00:15:00] So Glenn has said there is no good reason for a foundation to exist in perpetuity. Of course, I think he says that just because he likes to throw a ball of toff cocktails and things like that. But He, there’s, there’s some kernel of interest in that point. So David, notwithstanding Glenn’s extremely full throated endorsement for spending out limited life, call it what you will.
There must be some good reasons for perpetuity. I’m sure you’ve thought about this a lot. What do you think?
David: Well, of course there are. I mean, it is the default, the switch is to default on virtually every foundation that exists towards perpetuity. And, I mean, as a, as a guy who’s been consulting in philanthropy for twenty Plus years, I’ve worked for lots of those organizations.
You’ve worked for some of them, maybe a few that said, I don’t know that I can explain or justify that decision for other organizations, but, but I’ll, but I’ll try anyway, the existential nature of many of the problems that we’re facing. [00:16:00] That, that argument can be used either way, right? Climate change isn’t going away in the next 20 years.
It’s only going to get worse. We need to stay in the fight for the long haul, hence perpetuity. Or, climate change is so bad, we gotta throw everything we can at it right now, as fast as we can. Limited life. I think so much of it depends on the vision, intent. And frame or theory of change to speak philanthropies of the founder or the early board or the original donor and, and the need to honor their intense intentions over time that, that it is just a uniquely.
Personal organizational decision, ultimately, I think in our case, Diana, I don’t want to speak too much for your family, Dena, but I think a part of her motivation was she didn’t want to be presumptuous in saddling her Children or her grandchildren [00:17:00] with something they needed to. Maintain, it’s sort of like, everybody knows you shouldn’t give someone a puppy without, without their permission.
It’s a little presumptuous, billion dollar puppy to say, now here it is, go raise it. Kidding aside, it is a sort of big version of that same question. It’s like, who am I to assume they want to do this? And I think in Diana’s case, it was all of the above. Issues are hot. We need to work on them now. She didn’t want to stay around or, or, or leave this problem with her children and grandchildren.
And she wanted to see the impacts of the work while she was still around to recognize them and appreciate them. Have we solved all those big problems? Of course not. You know, she can feel good at age 80 that she has done a hell of a lot to advance the issues that matter to her. So
Eric: this foundation feels like, as you both described, an intensely personal institution [00:18:00] that really reflects…
The ethos of founder, which has been passed down to you, Dena, and to the staff, a very small staff, I might add. And the organization has been run in a very personal way, not so much. So small staff, your evaluations component, you actually, I don’t know, what do you do? You, you work with your own grantees to conduct evaluations, you don’t grant cycle.
I mean, it, it sounds like. It could be really fabulous, or it could be a total disaster. Tina, can you just walk us through how you’ve experienced running such a, such a close institution that is really based on these values, and which didn’t end up being a 40 person staff with a lot of trappings and a lot of institutional layers.
Dena: That’s a really great question. And I feel like you kind of nailed a [00:19:00] lot of sort of our special sauce in that question. So bravo to you. Every
Eric: so often a blind squirrel gets a nut.
Dena: Congratulations. Um, I’m sorry,
Eric: got my
David: nuts. Sarah Silverman says in one of her standups that squirrels lose 95 percent of the nuts they bury, but they put enough of them out there.
Good to know. Eventually they’ll find one.
Dena: There you go. Uh, well, maybe that’s an approach to our grammar teacher. No, I hope not. I really hope not. Okay. So I would say this. Two things. One is one of Diana’s mantras. She has two. Oh, she has many, but the two that really guide her, one of them is Joseph Campbell’s follow your bliss.
Which really basically speaks to this idea of not just following, like, your interests because it’s fun or it’ll make you happy, but sort of a deep belief that if you really are listening to the things that activate and animate you, your passions, that [00:20:00] becomes A opportunity to go really deep to, to leverage that passion for deep curiosity, for lifelong learning, for lots of rigor, for lots of engagement, for deep relationships.
And that is the expectation she’s had of herself. And that is the invitation that she has given to her team to bring, you know, I don’t want it to sound like we’re this sort of fluffy crew that just goes around and kind of funds what we like. But I think this. Notion of following your bliss at the organizational level, at Certainly at the founder level and, and frankly at the staff level is done because my, I think my mom intuitively understands that following BLIS is a way to bring rigor, deep relationships, lifelong learning, which I think are the hallmarks for lots of good grantmaking, not just grantmaking we do, but grantmaking others do.
So that’s maybe the, the first thing I’ll say. The second is it does, I think, require a [00:21:00] lot of trust in the communities and movements that we’re a part of. Certainly, in the small staff that she has hired, we have absolutely made mistakes. You don’t give away, you know, 50, 60, 70 million dollars a year and not make mistakes.
But I think in sometimes that those mistakes, if I reflect on the biggest mistakes that I feel like I’ve made, it has been more a, an outgrowth of not being in authentic enough relationships with my grantees and having more of a top down agenda. Her second mantra is, I wonder what this will be like. And I think that speaks to this ongoing learning, ongoing curiosity.
And I think we have generally been attracted to grantees who are sort of obsessed with their own learning. They’re going to be doing the learning, whether or not we’re around and funding them. We are just partners in that and, and along for the ride. So I hope that
Eric: answers your question. Yeah, it does. You touched on this idea of trust, which I think is the It is the most important value that a foundation and their grantees can have in common.
Yeah. If [00:22:00] you trust each other, then people are allowed to say what went wrong, and you’re allowed to say what you don’t know. And those two conversations don’t always happen in philanthropy, and it feels to me like you, you were able to build trust with them in ways that allowed you to really understand whether.
You were going in the right direction, or if not, how you could adjust to help everybody.
Dena: I mean, we have a segment of our work that is in partnership with the Blackfeet tribe in Montana. It would be almost impossible for us to go into relationship with that community and think we have a better sense of exactly where the money should go and, you know, how one might reintroduce Buffalo in the most sensitive, impactful way to the Badger 2 Medicine Wilderness.
Like that is not. That is not our domain, that is not our, our dish that we cook, and, and yet it has been so fun and engaging and inspiring to learn through them and with them. And, and I do think that trust has been mutually extended and there have been, I think, throughout [00:23:00] the spend out process, our grantees also trusting in us that we’re gonna.
Uphold our end of the bargain and our relationship with them. Do the very best we can to support them. We have a operating reserves program that we’ve created for our grantees to build up their operating reserves in advance of our leaving. And, you know, we sort of feel like that mutual is sort of a mutual compact and a mutual trust that we are going to be there with them through 2023 and do everything we can to position them for success on the back end.
Eric: Well, that’s a great spot to take a quick break. When we come back from the break, I want to talk a lot more about the spending out experience, the things that you’re doing right now and what you’re thinking about, about what you, what you want to leave. So we’ll be right back with Dena Kimball and David Brotherton.
You’re listening to Let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Eric Brown and Kirk Brown. Let’s Hear It is sponsored by the Stupsky Foundation, a foundation returning all its resources to the [00:24:00] communities it calls home in Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area by 2029 to support just and resilient food, health, and higher education systems for all.
Because change can’t wait. Learn more at Stupski. org. And now, back to the show. And we are back with Dena Kimball, the executive director of the Kendeda Fund, and David Brotherton, the fund advisor and factotum to the, I like the title. I love it. It’s a very good title. I’m not, is that a capital F? Depends.
Dena: It is a very ribald Charles Bukowski book, which was gifted to me at some point by. By somebody, but I’m, I’m, I’m a little uncomfortable
Eric: with it. I’m not sure what it means, uh, but it sounded right. I think we all have a sense of what this organization is and what it is hoped to achieve and the way it is done now as you are in the, really the last months of your existence.
You have [00:25:00] put together kind of a, a plan to talk about your work, to engage with your grantees, and to help other people learn from, from what you’ve learned. Maybe I’ll start with you, David. How did you think about telling that story? What was…
David: What’s the, what threw your mind? Sure. Number one, we aren’t the first foundation to do this, right?
So there’s a, there’s a breadcrumb trail of great learning and experience and trial and error that predates us. There’s, there’s the big, famous tentpole versions, you know, Rosenwald, Atlantic Philanthropies. There’s lots of smaller foundations, some of which are well known, some of which are not. So we started by doing our homework and just trying to learn who did what, how to go, what worked and what failed.
To that end, we brought in the woman, Anita Nager, who was the last program director at Belden and sort of helped ride them into the, into the sunset. [00:26:00] She had a wealth of experience and opinions and ideas on how we should go about it. Uh, and we’ve been engaged with her for four, five years at this point, you know, and she forced some very early questions, obvious things like pick a date.
You can’t do this if you aren’t specific, both for programmatic purposes and for investment purposes, we needed to know what was the pool of funds we had to work with and what were we trying to run down grantees deserve to know all of that stuff. We also recognize you need to be communicative and transparent about this choice.
As early as possible. Grantees deserve it. The work shifts and moves based on the trajectory of funding. In my gun violence prevention portfolio, it was a tail. It was a ramp down with most of my grantees. You don’t want to just drop them off a cliff. Oh, by the way, that was your last grant. Good luck. You know, we were very explicit and worked with them to sort of ease the blow of us going away.
We [00:27:00] also helped establish operating reserves at 30 or more of our kind of core partners organizations who maybe didn’t anticipate the value of having a rainy day fund that they could draw from, you know, when the next COVID comes down or whatever crisis might present itself. We worked very intentionally with those groups to help them build up those operating reserves for long term.
Organizational health on the communication side. I guess this is a communications podcast at some level. There was a bunch of things we started doing maybe more recently in the last couple of years, planning for a website where a bunch of things could live. The website will not be. Structured in a traditional way, the way foundation sites commonly are.
Here’s our programs. Here’s our team. It’s going to be more of a narrative experience for interested parties who might want to learn from our example. That could be other funders that could be [00:28:00] emergent donors who haven’t even established their own philanthropic sort of plan yet. It will be our grantee partners as a way to lift up and highlight some of the great work they did.
That site’s going to have a nine episode podcast. Competing with let’s hear it. Of course, clearly we’re going to squish it like a button. No, it will have graduations. Thank you. Thank you. It will have a really compelling data visualization journey that visitors can go on that kind of shows visually what is 30 years of grant making look like it will have.
Reflections from each of our programs on what does the work mean? How has it gone? Well, what are the challenges ahead for the next 10 years? So we’re kind of trying to create this, this, this place where big ideas can live that are less about wasn’t Kendeda great, or isn’t Diana an amazing person for having done it, but more about [00:29:00] what the heck did we learn along the way?
And. If a half a dozen or 50 organizations can learn from that, then it was worth it. But it is, it is an interesting last year. It feels increasingly breathless. What was December 31st, 2023 felt like forever from now, just a couple of years ago, now I can hear that drumbeat every morning when I wake up thinking, oh my gosh, seven months, six months, five months.
It’s kind of. A fun ride.
Eric: Well, Tina, this notion that we, we want to try and influence other funders, it feels like every foundation wants to influence other funders. They want other people to fund the things they’re funding, and sometimes they’re even willing to fund the things that other people are funding so that you can get more leverage or whatever you want to use.
As your descriptor. But the idea that now there’s a lot more funder, we believe that there’s more money coming, maybe. So Oxfam said that during the first two years of the pandemic, there was a new billionaire created every 33 hours. That’s [00:30:00] a billionaire with a B. So that’s 573 billionaires. And our hope is that they will decide to give that money away to good causes.
And my guess is that for a foundation that has Done what it’s done, learned what it’s learned, that those are some of the types of people that you can have a lot of leverage with. Do you have one piece of advice for those 572 billionaires with a B who, with any luck at all, will do something good with that money?
If I had
Dena: one piece of advice, I heard this quote, my mom religiously watches CBS Sunday Morning and therefore part of my job description is also to watch CBS Sunday Morning every Sunday. Recently, Michael J. Fox was on and he, he said something at the end, you know, related to his personal life. lifetime with Parkinson’s now, but he said something to the effect of gratitude becomes the basis for sustaining optimism.
And I [00:31:00] think my piece of advice would be if you can maintain a posture of gratitude throughout this. The gratitude for the opportunity to make a difference. The gratitude that on a, you know, daily basis you are, have the chance to be around incredible change makers who are doing amazing work in the world.
Um, even in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary, I think it becomes much easier to stay in a place of optimism as, as opposed to a place of hopelessness and despair. And I think that optimism becomes a point at which we can connect with people whose life experiences are very, very different from ours, sort of in a shared collective journey to, to make the world a better place.
So I think my one piece of advice would be to try to just stay in a posture of gratitude. Also, to pay a communications advisor a lot of money. That would be my second piece of advice. David wanted me to make sure I got that in. We should work on that.
Eric: Do you want to, do you want to reset your rate? [00:32:00]
David: No, I would just add to Dena’s sarcasm, the real truth of our journey and the communicating we are doing this year.
Is not to go to the world with a posture that spending out is what you must do. This is a story about spending out is what Kendeda chose to do. And we learned some stuff along the way. We’ve made some choices structurally, operationally, programmatically along the way. And most of those resulted with, in, in good outcomes.
Sometimes there were some bumpy lessons learned along the way. But this is a journey one woman with one worldview has gone through. And we are here to help her actualize that. That’s different from Glenn Galich Galich. You know, who has a very strong point of view that everybody should do it. [00:33:00] And there’s no justification for…
Retained wealth. We entertain all comers and I think we just want to position Kendeda as one perspective, one potential path, one set of lessons that if others want to read the playbook or pay attention, great, we’re going to serve up some stuff that you can learn from.
Eric: Yeah. One of the reasons that foundations I think don’t like to.
Say what went wrong is, I’ve long said that and I, I use the royal we, ’cause I used to work for one, you know, we have phenomenally paper, thin skins and we’re hemophiliacs . We just don’t want anyone to say anything bad about us. On blood thinners. On blood thinners. And when a foundation is candid about what didn’t go according to Plan A, it’s how you build trust with grantees.
It’s how you maybe perhaps build trust with your colleagues in the field, but it’s also how you learn and how you teach. Dena, can you talk about, you are clearly a foundation that is willing to say [00:34:00] thanks. But in ways that are, I think, quite generous to all concerned. Can you talk about some of the things that, that you learned.
Maybe something you would’ve done a little differently? Thank
Dena: you for saying that. That’s
Eric: kind. It’s the added benefit of
Dena: truth. Yeah. Well, I hope so. On our best days, I hope so. I’ve been thinking a little bit about, like, oh, regret or… I, I think there is one thing other than David that I regret. It’s just, I, you know, it’s
Eric: a but we’re next to it.
Apotheosis and brotherhood, do it all over again if you would
David: not have brought me on.
Dena: There, I would say the thing I regret is I think I was very focused on maintaining one of Diana’s sort of values. I’m not. Not, you know, centering ourselves, not having a light touch with our philanthropy, not building up this big institution, you know, and so on and so forth.
And so, I myself really stayed away from, I think I [00:35:00] embodied very much her value of quiet giving, lead by example, humility, you know, blah, blah, blah, I hope so. But what I think I missed a little bit on was her equal and sometimes opposite value on curiosity. Thank And it kept me away from some of the colleagues and people that I’ve had the chance to meet in the last six months who really are just as thoughtful, if not more than we are, and really are doing great work in philanthropy.
And I think in some ways, the attempt to maybe differentiate ourselves put me at arm’s distance from some colleagues who I could have learned a lot from. Just one example is You know, I had a chance recently to be in conversation with a few other second generation types, which is not the normal company I keep, that the National Center for Family Philanthropy had put me in a room with.
And it was really like a lovely, thought provoking, thoughtful hour. And I, I regret, um, not putting myself in some of those spaces a little more often. [00:36:00]
Eric: And so now I’d like to go out with my favorite question. Uh, and I’ll start with you, David. What, what’s one thing that you’re most proud of?
David: Oh, convincing Dena to hire me.
No, no. No,
Eric: it’s not hard. There
David: is a lot to be proud of in this organization’s work over 30 years. Me personally, as a guy who, who wears two hats, one is communications, one is programs focused on gun violence prevention. We, in our… Gun violence work made an intentional and early choice to focus on how the frame around gun violence can shape attitudes around the issue.
It is like so many things in our world these days, a polarized pro versus anti. Red versus blue, pick your frame, but it is one of those deeply polarizing issues. [00:37:00] We made a choice in this portfolio, as well as in all of our, most of our others, that investments in storytelling can soften the acrimony. And so we’ve done that in a bunch of ways.
We went big and often to support the trace, which is. It’s the only full time dedicated newsroom covering guns and gun violence and the business of guns all the time. It’s a single subject newsroom that has won tons of awards and done amazing reporting. We have invested in Sundance. Documentary films around guns and gun violence.
Trying to expand the public health frame that defines the issue. Trying to look at guns not just as an urban crime issue, but as a suicide issue, as a rural state issue. Presenting the complexity of this issue. We’ve funded podcasts focused on comparing and [00:38:00] contrasting the Mountain West’s attitudes on guns with the Deep South’s attitudes on guns.
Et cetera, et cetera. And, and our grantees have won awards along the way, including the first ever Pulitzer prize for NPR with a podcast that spun out of a program project we did there. Long story short, it is something I am immensely proud of because other funders in gun violence now recognize. Oh, there’s more to solving this problem than just funding research or community violence intervention.
Like, there is a frame in which the world sees and makes sense of or understands this issue. And I think we have done, it is still a massive and intractable problem, let’s be clear. We have not solved gun violence in America. But we have made the conversation different. And I think others, when we’re gone, when Kendeda is no more, I know for a fact other [00:39:00] foundations in that issue are gonna carry those forward.
And I’m very, very proud
Eric: of that. It’s great work. You should be proud of it. And now, since you’re going to need a job, I have a new tagline for you, David Brotherton softening the acrimony. I think that’s gonna get you some work. Dena, let’s… Leave you with the last word. What are you most proud of?
David: Wow, I get the last word.
Besides hiring me. Yeah.
Dena: What I am most proud of there is so much and Certainly, the results of our grant making, I’m incredibly proud of our living building, the hundreds of new worker owners, the parent driven education reform in Atlanta, and so on and so forth. I think, and it, you know, I’m certainly not gonna just pick one, but I would say in some ways how we work.
So, you. Viewers can’t see, but I’m wearing a very cute t shirt that was given to us by one of our grantees, the Atlanta Village Market that’s focused on black enterprise. And the t shirt [00:40:00] says, support is a verb. We have written a lot of checks. We have given a lot of tangible dollar support, but I very much think the posture of the team, the Kendeda Fund, and hopefully, Our grantees also for one another has been very much, um, support is a verb, that it is a daily act, not a check you write.
And, and that’s what I’m most proud of is living up to that as best we could.
Eric: Well, it’s, it’s great work. Congratulations. It’s such a pleasure to talk with you about it. I, I always learn so much from people like you and I appreciate you coming on, Dena Kimball, the Executive Director of Kendeda Fund, David Brotherton Communications.
Yeah. Advisor. And thanks
David: again for having us. Eric, thanks for having us. It was really a hoot.
Dena: Thank you, Eric. Just a pleasure.
Eric: Thank you.
Kirk: And we’re back. First of all, we have to talk about Diana Blank for just a moment and Deanna Kimball. And one of the things you didn’t… Mentioned in your setup, but Kendeda’s [00:41:00] based in Atlanta, right?
They’re based in the in the South, and you were here in the San Francisco Bay area and we’re so used to these massive philanthropies kind of getting organized in the Bay Area and coming forward with all their aud audacious strategies. I think the fact that Diana chose to locate the geography for the work in the south coming out of Atlanta, I just think that’s a part of the story that really bears reflection.
And then of course, the other piece of it is engaging Dena to say, Hey, Let’s learn how we do this together, but we’re actually going to do this. We’re going to spend this thing out. And I feel like they did that relatively early in their trajectory is, you know, we have seen more spend out stuff recently, but I feel like they’ve quietly been at this for a while.
But what do you make of all of that? That combination of family, it’s learning to do this together. It’s an, a massive amount of money, a billion dollars. And this is coming from Atlanta, Georgia, not San Francisco or Seattle, or, you know, any of our West coast cities. Of course, Atlanta is elite by far in its own right.
Eric: Sure. Well, I think [00:42:00] just in general that this foundation is of a type, it is a family run organization. They never aspired to be huge in staffing. They never aspired to be the story. Kendeda was very quiet. It was anonymous for a fair amount of time. And then it was kind of semi anonymous. Uh huh. And slowly, I love the story about Mrs.
Blank, who was the philanthropist, and they were just kind of calling it Blank instead of who it was, and it actually, her name is Blank. Funny, funny story about anonymity. I guess when your name is blank and you want to be anonymous, that’s one way to do it. But the point is that this foundation has, has run itself in a very personal, quiet, local way.
And for a community like Atlanta, which doesn’t see a ton of large philanthropy, I’m sure that it has made an enormous amount of difference for people because they really were able to have those kinds of conversations and to be that kind of personal institution for people. And I [00:43:00] think that’s quite.
Interesting. The other thing is just how they did their work and how they decided to go out of business all feels very authentic. It doesn’t feel like a big performance art piece. This is about how you are going to take your. family and your personal values and apply them to your philanthropy. And I really just can’t commend them enough for the way they have gone about this.
I think it’s, it’s just a great lesson for folks out there. Stupsky Foundation, we, now a sponsor, but recently, a long time ago, we had Glenn Gowich on as guest, also a foundation that is spending out and doing it in, I think, a very, very thoughtful way. Thank you. Those are great examples of foundations that have been very specific, very direct.
They were able to concentrate their funding because they had a shorter time horizon and make a real difference.
Kirk: But as we talk about this, I like the intersection between the personal stories as well as the philanthropic journey here. And of course, Dena [00:44:00] is the executive director of the Kendeda Fund, also a fund advisor for girls rights.
The gravity! Of this decision, the gravity of the decision to become 1st, more public with your grant making, and then to say, we’re going to spend this down and try to do this thoughtfully. I think it’s something that we don’t get that many opportunities to hear 1st hand from the folks that are most connected to this work that they take it very seriously.
And this is. Difficult work to do and do well, and to feel like you’re hitting that mark internally, that internal compass that we all bring with us that you’re saying to yourself, actually, I’m doing this and doing this well. And I have to say. The opportunity to enlist the services of somebody like David Brotherton, you can see the camaraderie, the congeniality, two strong colleagues, but also doing very thoughtful work.
And I loved when you asked David kind of what he was most proud of in the grant making they’d done. You know, he reflected on things like. Narrative, narrative change, doing some innovative things with that. But to me, [00:45:00] that’s one of the things that sort of comes out here, that there’s a personal journey that people go through as they go through a process like that.
And that journey is very serious. People take it very seriously. It takes a lot of work, a lot of rigor to do it and do it well. And there’s actually some work required there to keep the balance, right? Because you’re doing something that’s so extraorDenarily important in such an important part of the country as well.
Eric: Yeah. Well, again, if you’re a. foundation or a family foundation or a philanthropist in one way or the other. I mean, here’s a little plug for David Brotherton. Having somebody whom you trust, who understands the field and who can provide you with candor about how to go about your work is great. And now as it happens, David Brotherton is going to need a job because Kennedy’s going out of business.
Everyone should just hire him to do that kind of work. But the way they went about it was grounded in their values. That it was never about them. It was really about, are we making a difference? How are we engaging with people? Are we listening carefully? Are we paying attention to what the needs are out there?
And those are [00:46:00] the values that have guided that institution from the get go, from the very, very beginning. The thing that was hard for them, I think, was to come out and not be anonymous. Because that value of being, I’d say, small C conservative or low key trumped for a couple of years. But the fact is that communications is so important and talking about what your goals are and learning from what you’re doing publicly, that matters too.
So you kind of have to balance that communications, that unanonymousness with the nature of not being the story to hit that right feel and that right moment. And I think they did that.
Kirk: When Diana brought and then Dena carried it forward, it looks like this notion of trust based philanthropy to the work that we’re going to trust and rely on our partners to actually help us get in the right direction.
And Dena talked about that, that, you know, this, this work requires a lot of trust as well as I loved. I love this comment. You know, how we work support is a verb for us. You know, support is about the actions that we take, [00:47:00] and the posture of their fund is to really work from a place where support is a verb.
But so what do you make of this concept of trust based philanthropy? Because we’ve been hearing a lot more about it in philanthropy recently. It’s, I think, a terrific contribution to the overall consideration of everything that’s going on with this work and its scale. But it really feels like Kendeda has taken that really to heart, that this has been about trust based philanthropy really from the get go.
Eric: Well, trust based philanthropy is both an organization now, so it’s an organization that is, that is dedicated to helping people understand a new way of doing philanthropy, which is identify leaders, give them the money, let them spend it in a way that they think matters most because they’re the ones who are closest to the work.
I think the word trust, I think it’s relationship based philanthropy. So maybe that’s. Okay. It, it almost, I don’t know, it downplays the value of the partnerships or the relationships that you have with people because you get to know them, you understand what they’re trying to achieve and then you give them the resources that they need in [00:48:00] order to do it.
I think it’s less about trust than it is about these relationships. But I also think it’s incredibly important and we have seen so called strategic philanthropy in which the foundation decides what the goal is. They subcontract out their own. strategies to organizations and those organizations pursue those strategies to the letter sometimes at, or if they don’t at their peril, and you’re just kind of contracting that out.
I mean, that’s the extreme version of strategic philanthropy. And the foundation that I used to work for the Hewlett Foundation was well known for it. And the trick was to be strategic without being obnoxious. I think Hewlett square that circle by giving Transcribed general support grants to organizations to pursue specific strategies, but that they would, in certain instances, make changes as they saw, course corrections as they saw.
So I think that’s the kind of the balance of that. But the idea of finding organizations that are in alignment with what you’re trying to achieve and giving them the funds they need to pursue the strategies that they think will [00:49:00] work, I think is a great development. And there’s no perfect way to do philanthropy, but I think that that can be a really, really effective one, and it allows for a lot more creativity and a lot more flexibility because we don’t, as funders, they don’t have all the answers.
They sometimes don’t even know what the problems are. They just know kind of in general what they’re interested in. And this is where those kinds of really deep partnerships or deep relationships matter and how you can get a lot done by applying them.
Kirk: Well, and if you just think about the sources of communication and the sources of information we all have access to, and you think about the multiplier effect of really relying on your grantees to be those information conduits for you.
So you’re not having to make all the decisions with just a handful of people. Around a conference table, but you’ve got people all over the place in the field, seeing how things are playing out that can lend a lot of nimbleness to strategies. I think over time. So 2 things about Kendeda in terms of their start.
And then as they closed that I thought were so interesting. So as they got started. They [00:50:00] use their dollars to de risk organizations by putting the 1st philanthropic dollars in helping say to other funders. This is a place where your dollars can go and they can be used safely and effectively here. I love that concept.
It’s such a cool idea that we use philanthropic dollars to de risk certain kinds of grant making strategies. And then as they were running their closeout, Coming to grantees saying, okay, we’re going to have a ramp down process. We’re going to be way in front of this. And as one of the results of our bend down, we’re going to actually help you establish operating reserves.
And I feel like this could be the next arc of really deep strategy in the grant making arena. And so this notion of general operating support, that’s always been so welcome. Don’t, don’t handcuff me. Let me push these dollars where they need to go as a grantee. And let me make choices as we move along.
But yet every organization. Runs this pressure of how do I fund this year? How do I make this all work out? And, and this is one of the big disconnects between foundations and their grantees. Foundations don’t [00:51:00] face that pressure. And so there’s this inherent power imbalance between these people desperate to make their budget per year.
And these people that are kind of just trying to figure out how to get to their spend down year by year. But this idea of helping grantees develop operating reserves to help eliminate some of that stress, but also underscore that trust saying, you know, actually, we think over time and perpetuity, these are resources best sitting with you rather than sitting and inside of the confines of a foundation endowment.
That is a really interesting. And I think actually important. Transition as grant making moves forward. I mean, what do you think about that? Helping organizations, not just with their year over year general operating funds, but actually helping them create reserves. So they have something that they can lean into or fall back into as they need it.
Eric: stuff is always tricky. If you’re a nonprofit organization, someone gives you money for your reserves. The question is like, how long should I keep them in reserve when I shouldn’t be spending them? What is my reserve spending plan or budget? How do I convince other funders that [00:52:00] I still need money when I now have this bunch of money sitting in reserve.
All that stuff is quite tricky. And I think it’s a great idea. I think another really great idea is pay overhead. If you’re a funder, pay a good amount of overhead so that you’re not causing these organizations to twist themselves into pretzels to meet your… project goals, make sure that you fund the workings of the organization or even better yet, of course, general support.
Nonprofits are always seeking money and they’re always trying to balance the fact that there may be this perception if a big funder comes in and gives them some spending that they can use over time, that they’re overly funded. And so therefore someone else is doing the work. So it’s always this dance and endowments are even almost worse because if you’re going to live on your endowment, it means that 95 percent of your money has to sit in In a bank or wherever, throwing off 5% of interest.
And so if you have a $10 million endowment, you get to spend whatever it is, [00:53:00] $50,000 a year. Mm-hmm. , wait, a million dollar down, it throws off $50,000 a year. Right? So a $10 million endowment throw off half a million dollars and you got $9,500,000 sitting there, whatever molding. So endowments are kind of weird and I don’t like them because it really does lock up too much money.
But this idea that we’re gonna give you enough money, so for the next three years, You can fall back on something if your other spending goals don’t pan out. And the other thing that I’ve said, uh, many, many, many times on, on this show, is that the funding match, I believe, is still the greatest gimmick in philanthropy, and it works.
And so, look, we’ll put this much in if you put that much in, is one way to mitigate against this sense that this place is already funded by somebody else, and I don’t need to do anything. If it comes with those types of strings that are achievable but meaningful, I think you can also help an organization.
But then this brings us
Kirk: to the big question. So as we close, we have to come back to the big question. So you’re describing this challenge for organizations. If you’ve got an endowment, if you got an operating reserve, how do you make these decisions? [00:54:00] Are we using those dollars? Are they being wasted? If they’re being, if they’re sitting in a bank account, well, isn’t.
Every foundation at scale wrestling with the same set of choices and decisions. So do I have 4 billion parked away? That’s creating X percent that I give out per year, or do I actually take that money, push it into the field? And instead of me and my board of directors and trustees deciding a dozen or 20 of us deciding what to do with 4 billion, let’s empower several thousand people to decide what to do with 4 billion, because that’s how many different organizations we would actually touch if we just push that into operating reserves in the field.
So. How do you square that circle? If the foundation came to you. And said, we’re, we’ve got a billion dollars and we’re either going to spend it out in 10 years or we’re going to operate in perpetuity. What would you say, Eric Brown? The billion dollar question. The billion dollar question. Let’s hear it.
Eric: All right. Here’s what I would say. I’m going to hedge slightly. It would depend on the area that I’m working in. Uh, and it would, it, because there are some things [00:55:00] that have kind of perpetual challenges. So it’s possible that I would establish, or I would, I would help support organizations that are doing this work over time and give them enough money and enough lead time to do it for a period of time.
Or you could keep it in the foundation and, and make sure that these organizations are well funded and can rely on your spending over a long period of time, knowing that I can’t think of the issue exactly, but I think hunger, homelessness, many of these kind of social challenges that are, they will persist in one form or another over time.
And you need to make sure that if you care about it, that it is taken care of. I actually frankly think that the arts is another one where foundation funding for arts is, is not good right now. And so if you.
I think that you could argue for a semi perpetual organization, but there may be things that if not now, never, like climate change, [00:56:00] uh, if we don’t solve this problem now, then who cares what the future looks like? And you might say, okay, here are areas that we, if we could learn something really powerful about how to address climate Climate change that now’s the time you would be, you could defend your, your decision to spend it out in 10 years because after 10 years we’re kind of over the cliff.
So, in a sense, it depends on the issue, but I think there are a lot of issues for which a very concentrated amount of, of funding would go a long way. Now, having said that there is this other McConnell Clark Foundation set up when they created Blue Meridian Partners. So, what they did was they moved all of their chips over into.
A new entity that was essentially a matching institution and they brought in, their billion dollars brought in six or seven or eight billion dollars in other funding from other funders to work on youth success, on, on giving youth opportunities that they don’t have. And I think [00:57:00] that’s another really, really interesting model that we all could learn more about.
So those are. My three kind of, what a fuzzy ideas about what I would do with my billion dollars.
Kirk: Well, I want to make the, thank you. And I’m happy to see what you do with your billion dollars. I want to make the
Eric: case that
Kirk: is not fuzzy at all in the sense that we know that ecosystems require diversity to be resilient. And so having different foundations and different philanthropies, uh, trying different strategies, different approaches, some spending down, some not, I think it’s the, it’s the combination of all that thinking and the collection of what we learn from that, that helps us.
And actually getting into the nitty gritty of how all these grants work, that the pitch I would make to everybody is it’s less about the spend down or not. It’s even less about general operating support or not. And my experience, you also want to think about timeframes, you know, so if you push a million dollars into an organization that’s never consumed that support before, and then you’d say, Tell us how it goes in 12 months.
You’re almost setting that into organization [00:58:00] up for failure, you know, so, so this notion of multi year grants, I actually think it’s multi year not saying it’s two year increments. That’s multi years. It’s like, no, actually, we’re going to give you a large amount of money. We’re going to call general operating support, come back to us in two years and tell us how you’ve scaled up to work at this level.
And then we’ll come back and do another couple of years, but now we’ll fund at that level or even greater. Because now we want to fund you to match the next increment of scale. And that kind of like scaling strategies, that notion that things need to sort of take time to heat up and get more effective.
It just, our, our time is so limited. It seems like in philanthropy that sometimes we don’t have the chance for those deeper conversations, but this concept of like just taking lessons learned and learning what worked, what didn’t, you know, to build off each other’s experience, this is why I love stories from the Kendeda Fund.
So again, Dena and David, thank you so much for creating this resource, this series of episodes that describe different aspects of your experience at the Kendeda Fund. I’m sure it was much harder to do than they initially envisioned to create this, [00:59:00] you know, series of podcasts, but there’s some really interesting stuff in here, isn’t there, Eric?
I mean, you know, they start out talking about the family dimension, you know, Dena and Diana working together, pull examples from different, um, Interventions they’ve done. Their second episode is about Grove Park. They talk about regenerative design with Atlantis green buildings, narrative change, community wealth building.
I mean, all of the different things that they’ve worked on as a foundation. So what do you think, Eric, should we encourage every foundation everywhere to create a podcast series that actually encapsulates parts of their strategy, man, I think that would be amazing. Absolutely. And you
Eric: know what, if it puts us out of business Kirk, that’s okay.
That’s okay. Because it’ll be all for the good. By the way, can I just say something, Kirk? I think you’re getting really good at this. What are you talking about? I really can’t, you manage this conversation so nicely. I, I really, I appreciate that a lot. I hang
Kirk: out in the background. I do nothing. You do all the work.
You find all the people, you have all the conversations and every now [01:00:00] and then I show up for 15 minutes. That’s what goes on around here. Let’s be clear. We know what happens.
Eric: You’re just getting to be quite the whiz. And I, I’m not being facetious. You’re, you’re, I mean that.
Kirk: Well, so in terms of putting ourselves out of business, let’s wrap this up here.
Then Deanna Kimball, David Brotherton, very soon your work will be done with the Kendeda fund. I think it’s just the starting point though, for what’s ahead for both of you, the lessons you’ve accumulated, the stories, the experience, again, David, being able to balance both the comm side and the program side.
That is a very tough thing to do. My colleague, Eric Brown can probably attest to that in many ways. And then Dena, you know, taking this so seriously, doing this so well, working within the context of a family legacy, working with Diana, Diana Blank to, to take this, um, foundation and carry it forward. This is a tremendous testament to the work of gravity, the seriousness, the intelligence, the thoughtfulness, and, and just the real graciousness that’s been on display here.
So as we close, Dena reminds us that gratitude. Is really important [01:01:00] that we shouldn’t forget the gratitude that should underscore all this. So it’s Eric with great gratitude. I say, thank you for your compliment, but also thank you for this great conversation. This is a, this has been a great one today.
Eric: And speaking of gratitude, another vote of gratitude, a vote of thanks to the college futures foundation, our newest sponsor.
We are deeply grateful to you.
Kirk: Thank you so much for sponsoring this podcast. Thanks. All of you who are listening. And thank you to all of our guests. My goodness, this field is full of awesome people. Isn’t it, Eric?
Eric: It certainly is. And you is full of you.
There you go.
Kirk: Dena Kimball, David Brotherton. The Kendeda Fund.
That was awesome. We’ll see you next time on Let’s Hear It.
Kirk: Okay, everybody. That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show, and that definitely includes yourself. And we’d like to thank…
Eric: Our indefatigable producer, Harper Brown.
Kirk: John Allee, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music, our sponsor, the Lumina Foundation.
Kirk: And please check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, and you can find that at luminafoundation.org.
Eric: We certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you.
Kirk: And most importantly, thank you, Mr. Brown.
Eric: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you, Mr. Brown.
Kirk: Okay, everybody, till next time.