An Interview with Jerry VanSant

What fuels your passion (for the environment)?
I have no professional background in the environment, rather, my experience lies in the evaluation of nonprofits and the nonprofit sector. I have always cared about the outdoors, even as a young child, and I feel it is an extraordinarily important issue. It is a personal priority, but should also be a priority in the political realm. On the main stage, I feel climate change awareness is crucial. This global issue will be crucial to humanity in the coming decades if we want to have a future to share with generations to come.

How do you partner with the Foundation to support this cause?
The VanSants have used our family fund to support the work of several environmental organizations (among other organizations as well). I was very pleased to be asked to serve on the community programs review panel. This opportunity raised my awareness of a number of local initiatives – some of which I was familiar, others were new. I was very impressed with the creativity and passion evident in the projects submitted. I am pleased the environment is a priority for the Foundation, and encourage others to use the website as a resource to educate themselves about this work and then find a way to get involved.

Do you believe that it is important to be an activist, or actively support a cause as well as monetarily fund it?
I think that one could do both. If the opportunity presents itself to be an advocate for an issue, then by all means, educate your peers, representatives, and other community members. That is certainly important particularly in the legislature. But for some, monetary support is more within their level of comfort. Both are good ways to carry out a passion and spread concern for the issues we care about. Both types of players are needed to advance an issue, but not all people are called to both types of service. I’d say, do what you are passionate about.

If you could leave our readers with one piece of advice related to the environment or philanthropy or both, what would it be?
I would encourage readers to become aware of important and creative initiatives going on in the Triangle area – those that are familiar and many that are not. Make use of the Foundation as a way to educate yourself about these issues and then activate your passion. Many organizations operate on a very lean budget. It is amazing how much they can extend their reach with even just a few extra resources, but they need your help. We, as donors, can really make a difference!