It’s not all about the money – or is it?

Early in my career in philanthropy, a friend was celebrating securing a grant for a nonprofit’s capital campaign from the largest foundation in town. I commented that, “When I grow up, I want to be {name of that foundation’s CEO}.” My friend replied that he understood – access to the power and money controlled by that CEO would be something to which to aspire.

But he didn’t get it. It wasn’t the power or money that made me seek to emulate my colleague. It was his ability to leverage the perspective and knowledge attributable to his position to help facilitate collaborations and partnerships among organizations within our community. Much attention is paid to philanthropic financial capital. And rightly so – Giving USA’s report on philanthropy for the year 2021 revealed that individuals, foundations, bequests, and corporations contributed an estimated $485 billion to nonprofits organizations that year. But when philanthropoids like me get together, we talk about how to maximize impact through SMIRF.

Not to be confused with the strange blue cartoon characters, our SMIRF refers to all forms of philanthropic capital – social, moral, intellectual, reputational, and (of course) financial. It seems a shame to limit our focus to the financial without exploring the others. As families and organizations determine the impact they wish to have on their communities, I encourage them to explore how they might use their other forms of capital to engage and support organizations engaged in that work.

A few years ago, a philanthropic couple in Atlanta provided a grant to move the Cyclorama, a panoramic painting depicting the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, from a city-owned facility to the Atlanta History Center. Its former home was adjacent to the Atlanta Zoo, and the relocation afforded the Zoo the opportunity to develop a new African Savana exhibit and revenue-generating signature event space on the vacated land. To make room for the building to house the Cyclorama, the Atlanta History Center needed to move or demolish a greenhouse occupying that space on its property. Coincidentally, Atlanta’s Historic Oakland Cemetery needed a greenhouse to replace one destroyed by a storm, and the History Center’s turned out to be a perfect fit.

It took a lot of people utilizing their intellectual, social, and reputational capital to put that chain of dominoes together. But it was one couple’s $10 million pledge to move the Cyclorama that tipped the first domino over and set the chain reaction in motion.