For several decades, Darryl Lester has utilized a three-word phrase as a mantra for his work as a philanthropy evangelist and social uplift engineer – time, talent, and treasure. Whether lecturing to students about entrepreneurship, fellowshipping with fellow members of his fraternity, or coaching special needs youngsters on his daughter’s softball team, this Carolina native has pushed those around him to embrace this refrain as a north star for engaging with the community around them.

“To me, it’s about what people see in the mirror and how much they value what they see. If I see myself as relevant, I will show up as relevant regardless of whether I live in a house with two rooms or 20,” he says. “Philanthropy can be practiced by anyone, and in so many ways, even just with whom I extend a hand to, whom I smile at, whom I embrace.”

Darryl is on a mission to change the traditional definition of philanthropy and help everyone see they belong in the field, regardless of resources. As a previous Triangle Community Foundation team member, he sees the Foundation as an essential partner in this work. But his commitment to socially impacting those around him was something he observed while growing up in Marion, South Carolina.

“My mom always told me somebody else is worse off than me, and some nights she cooked extra dinner and asked me to take it down the street,” he added. This close-knit community of military veterans, manufacturing laborers, and blue-collar workers informed his earliest thoughts on social impact. “I attribute who and what I am to having grown up in Marion,” he states emphatically. “Folks there focused on what they did have as opposed to what they didn’t.”

Darryl’s mission at the Foundation is a natural extension of his earliest views on community and his previous work as one of the founders of the Community Investment Network (CIN), a North Carolina-based nonprofit which was established to support and encourage the development of “giving circles” and other collective giving models. A giving circle is a group of individuals who pool their personal time, talent, treasure, and testimony to address social issues impacting their communities using thoughtful giving strategies.

As Darryl described his early work with CIN and other groups, he added, “If we're going to move philanthropy, we need everyone to sit at the table, not look in the window.”

He embraced this statement and implemented it when he coalesced the community to support the Sassafras All Children’s Playground at Laurel Hills Community Park in Raleigh several years ago. Darryl’s daughter, Danielle, was born “differently abled” but has since become a role model with her involvement in sports, choir, and school, and making a successful journey to adulthood.

His time and talent have also been informed through his work in academia. After graduating from Wofford College with a degree in economics, he began a career in banking. However, it wasn’t long before he decided that he needed something with more passion and purpose. This led him to pursue a master’s degree in counselor education at North Carolina State University. After graduation, he took a job at Shaw University and later returned to NC State to take on a role in student affairs.

“Many positions I was drawn to on college campuses were looking at the journey of students of color, and one question I made sure to ask students as they were matriculating was, ‘What are you going to do with your time, talent, and resources as it relates to giving back?’ Subsequently, I made a transition to Public Allies, a social justice organization committed to changing the face and practice of leadership by recruiting and training talented emerging leaders, with a passion for social impact, to create meaningful change in our community. I became part of the founding staff at N.C. Public Allies.”

Soon Darryl found himself immersed in the many different aspects of fundraising – from the outside at Public Allies and then the inside at Capital Development Services. When a position opened at Triangle Community Foundation, this was yet another lens on philanthropy/fundraising he could inform. While at the Foundation, Darryl attended several National Center on Black Philanthropy conferences.

“I learned a lot from organizations successfully engaged in donor organizing and donor education in Black and Brown communities. The philanthropy model is generally set up as those who produce and give and those who receive. The insights gained from those conferences catalyzed my work to democratize and demystify philanthropy. If I could get people to see themselves inside of philanthropy and not outside, we could go somewhere.”

He frequently consults the 10 Lenses philosophy of Mark Williams and Timothy McIntosh, a professional barber, businessman, philanthropist, and founder of Park West Barber School, as a compass for his work at the Foundation.

“Tim opened the lane and is the only person who hasn’t worked in ‘traditional’ philanthropy to receive the Association of Black Foundation Executives Emerging Leader in Black Philanthropy award,” he added. “The tools of the community foundation made that possible. Tim’s story is an example of ‘cracking the door’ for groups that some might say a community foundation’s business model doesn’t support. Similarly, Mark says people look at the same thing but see something different because their journeys differ. Discussion about the lenses is where the deep conversation happens because the more we can get people to unpack their journey on where they came from and who they are, the more they can recognize they have blinders around certain things. And then if we're sharing conversation, we can understand and accept each other when there are bumps in the road.”

Over the next several months, Darryl intends to focus on engaging talent in rural and BIPOC communities through SERVICE. Through this work, he believes that we can fill the pipeline into the nonprofit, public and place-based sectors with more individuals that reflect the communities being served.

Darryl believes his time, talent, and resources at the Foundation have impacted the programmatic mindset and community outreach efforts.

“Once I got groups to realize, ‘If I pool mine with yours and we are intentional, using the tools of a community foundation, we can make a real difference,’ the stage was set for creating giving circles at the Foundation.”