Ron Strom: Passionate Philanthropist

The following is an interview with Ron Strom (R), Foundation fundholder, conducted by Meg Buckingham (M), senior marketing & communications officer for the Foundation.

M: Ron, tell me a little about your passion, and how you connect it to your philanthropy.

R: My personal passions involve connecting with the environment and with others. I grew up in Manhattan where, until the age of six, I thought the world was made of concrete, and that dirt and trees followed, usually in cutout squares along sidewalks. Since then, I have craved connections to nature.  One of the reasons that I moved to North Carolina was because of the ready availability to the outdoors. First in Asheville and since ’79 in Chapel Hill, I have been able to enjoy   nourishing experiences in nature: hiking in the Blue Ridge, running in Duke Forest, walking in Johnston Mill Preserve, photographing the changing seasons, or growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes in our garden. I prefer not to do these activities alone; I typically use them as gateways to connect with my family and friends. I have found solace, clarity of thought and connection through nature.  Creating opportunities to connect with our natural habitat and supporting initiatives to preserve our planet’s resources are foundational to our family’s philanthropy

M: If you had one piece of advice for other donors, what would it be?  

R: Find a way to say “no” so that you can feel great saying “yes”.   There are so many worthy causes and people engaged in heroic non-profit work.  Come up with a personal mission statement.  Identify an area of need that resonates with you.  Figure out what energizes you.  Determine where you can make a difference.  Give because it resonates with a place deep inside you.

M: How do you see your partnership with the Foundation?

R: We are partners and collaborators.  While the wellspring of giving oftentimes emanates from me and other family members, I am open, curious and seeking the intellectual capital and resources that are housed within the Foundation.  It is a ‘foundational’ pillar of philanthropy for our community.  As such,  the Foundation has helped our family become more strategic with our giving and increased the effectiveness of our grants.  Our giving has become more organized, impactful and leveraged as a result of our collaborating and partnering with Triangle Community Foundation.

M: You have a soapbox here – get on it and tell us what is the ONE thing you want readers to learn more about this year so they can make a greater impact?   

R: Foundation donors are barely touching the power and role that philanthropy can play in our community.  Together, we are a substantial philanthropic force of 800 or so families, funds and corporations with a $200 million capital base trying to make a difference.  Separately, each of us is making grants in amounts as small as $250 and, in most instances, using the Foundation as our ‘charitable check book’ and ‘back office’.  Of the $14 million or so of grants that are made each year, less than $500,000 is ceded to Triangle Community Foundation for truly unrestricted giving.

If instead, we could see ourselves as partners with the Foundation, each of us could become more effective and strategic as champions for the causes in which we deeply believe.  The Foundation is a philanthropic thought leader. It’s an honest broker connecting donors and agencies.  It is well positioned to lead initiatives that can help our grants effect change.  I’d like for each of us to consider, regardless of our area(s) of interest, Triangle Community Foundation as the recipient of grants from our respective funds so that it can make further grants to agencies and initiatives in our community.  If each of us were to empower and activate the intellectual capital housed within the staff, imagine how much more effective we could collectively be through a more collaborative approach.  A gift to the Fund for the Triangle or allocating a portion of our grant activity to unrestricted and pooled strategies, could create a virtuous cycle of effective grant making, a higher profile for the organization and a growing base of philanthropic support as we demonstrate the Foundation’s success and impact.

Here’s an example. A number of years ago, our family participated in a Foundation led effort to ensure that, if Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC were to convert from a private to a public company, all of its retained earnings, a number estimated in the billions of dollars, would go toward the health and well being of the citizens of North Carolina.  Ten families, together, pledged $50,000 toward this initiative.  It resulted in legislation that identifies and protects those profits as belonging to all North Carolinians.  If BCBS were to go public, all past profits would go toward the health and well being of the citizens of North Carolina.  This is the collective impact and potential of Triangle Community Foundation.  I encourage each of us to align our passions with the capacity of the Foundation to serve as an effective partner so that we can maximize our collective impact.