Thursday, March 22, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 23: Jed Emerson

Jed Emerson
"The most important thing is the music.  It's all about the music," Jed insisted.  

The scene was Colorado, many years ago.  I was in a deep funk, because GlobalGiving, which had just launched, was going nowhere fast.  I was run down, bleeding cash, and almost ready to throw in the towel.  At some point, I met this guy named Jed Emerson, and he invited me to come out to visit his new place in the wilds of Colorado.  

Jed had an interesting background running a nonprofit and teaching, but he was not a potential funder or user of the site, and I had no direct business reason for going.  As far as I could tell he was just some wild man with ideas about things like blended value.  

But something told me I should get on the plane anyway, and Mari told me it would do me good to get the heck out of Dodge, so I did.

Jed and I spent a couple of days in the deep snow in the outback of Colorado doing nothing in particular - mostly walking his dogs in the freezing cold and shooting the breeze and talking about relationships gone bad.  And listening to music.  Jed was all over the heavy metal stuff - groups like Stone Temple Pilots and The Marvins -  which he listened to at high volume while writing his books and articles. 

As I was flying back to DC, I thought to myself, "Well, crap, I have to keep going.  I can't give up now."  I had no blinding insight or a huge surge of energy. The feeling was more subtle.  But I knew I could not quit.  

So I went back to DC and started listening to more music.  Jed's tastes were a little heavy for me (please don't tell him), but I did start cranking up the Flaming Lips and My Morning Jacket, and the music helped keep me going.  I haven't seen Jed much over the past ten years, but I sure have listened to a lot more music. (Right now I'm listening to Steve Earle.)

Yesterday, I was on a conference call with Jed, and I thought back to that trip to Colorado, and how far things have come over the past decade.  It wasn't possible on the call to explain to Jed how pivotal that trip was for me.  Or to tell him that GlobalGiving has now mobilized nearly $100 million from 250,000 donors to build the platform and fund 5,000 projects in 130 countries.  Or that we broke even in 2011.

So let me say this here, loud and clear: Thank you, Jed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 22: Tom Rautenberg

Tom Rautenberg, 1954-2012
Tom Rautenberg was a Johnny Appleseed for good.  

Sometime around late 2001 or early 2002 (even before we had launched the site, as I recall), Tom walked in the door at GlobalGiving to offer his help.  He spent a couple of hours talking with us about what we hoped to achieve, and then he left.  

A couple of weeks later, he showed up again.  He was full of ideas and encouragement and connections, but he did not seem to want anything in return.  

In fact, every time he came, he would take us to a good lunch (usually a steak or gourmet hamburger), saying that start-up entrepreneurs needed a square meal.  He never asked for money (we had none, in any case), and the more he learned about us the more people he put us in touch with.  Several of those introductions led to key initiatives and partnerships for us over the years.

Tom had an amazing and varied career before we met him.  He had a degree in intellectual history, and then he worked on complex adaptive systems and nuclear negotiation theory at Berkeley and Brown.  Subsequently he shifted gears and founded a boutique investment firm specializing in the movie, communications, and education industries.  Then in the late 1990s, he took a sabbatical to work with the State of the World Forum.  Later he went on to work with Booz Allen, Generon, and Synergos, among others, and he was an informal advisor to many others.

One day I said "Tom, so tell me, what's this all about? "

"What do you mean?" he replied.

"Well, you show up here every month or two and buck up our spirits and help us think through things, even though you don't work here.  Why do you do it?"

"Dennis, listen: I have been lucky in life, and I want to give back.  You guys are helping me give back by letting me help you.  Thank you for letting me do it."

Over the following years, we met less frequently, but each time we would have lunch.  (I was glad that in more recent years I was in a position to pay!)  Tom seemed to show up whenever we were facing a crisis or major strategic challenge, and each time he gave us ideas, encouragement, and moral support that helped us make it through. 

A month ago, Tom died suddenly while in Aspen helping another group think about what they could do to improve the world.  He was 57.  I had not seen him for a year, and I had a note on my calendar to be in touch with him to set up one of our lunches.  

Last week, I decided to go ahead with the lunch anyway.  I went out to a new hamburger joint and got a burger with all the fixings.  After the waiter brought the food and left, I raised my glass and said, simply:

"Thanks, Tom."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 21: Elizabeth Stefanski

Eli Stefanski
This blog post that Elizabeth Stefanski wrote sums up a lot of what GlobalGiving is about.  What Elizabeth does not fully convey is how central her leadership, work, creativity, and never-say-never attitude was to GlobalGiving in the early days.

Eli joined our fledgling team at a time when we faced what we thought were insurmountable obstacles.  And she surmounted them.  GlobalGiving would probably not exist today - and certainly not be as successful as it is - if not for Eli.

Plus Eli brought to the culture of GlobalGiving an attitude that "even though this is hard, very hard, it also has to be fun, and what the heck let's go out and run a marathon in the middle of all this stress."  That was a real lesson for me.

For all that, and much more: Thank you, Eli!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 20: Ami Dar

Ami Dar
In late 2000, I was in New York City for some meetings when I got a call from Mari, who said "You have to go meet Ami Dar.

"Ami Dar?" I replied, "Who is he?"

"Find a copy of the Chronicle of Philanthropy - he's on the cover,"  she replied.  And so I did (in those days, there were actual magazine stands and shops!)  I read the story right away and then called Ami.

He invited me to his office that afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours talking about what the new thing called the Internet might mean for aid and philanthropy. Ami had started something called Action Without Borders in 1995, whereas Mari and I were just starting to think about launching what is now GlobalGiving.

At that time, there were very few people who understood the concept of what we were hoping to do - much less had any experience implementing something like it.  Ami was already in the process of thinking about the next phase of Action Without Borders, which would go on to become the very well known Idealist.

Fast forward to eleven years later.  I meet a new staff member at GlobalGiving who is terrific.  I say to Mari "Wow, she seems good.  Where did we find her?"

Mari looks at me like I am a moron and says "Idealist, of course - where else?"

Over the years, I have seen Ami here and there.  What strikes me each time I see him is that he is about action, not talk.  Others get more PR, but few get more done than Ami.  He does not go to that many conferences, but when he does you can be sure he will be worth listening to.  Candor, not flattery, is his middle name; he tells it the way it is (and that does not always make other people happy)!

What Ami may not know is how much that first meeting meant to me in terms of giving me the courage to  take the leap into the great unknown and launch GlobalGiving with Mari.  Trailblazers like Ami are few and far between, and they show the rest of us the way.  For that, I am very grateful.