#107 The Joy of Running a Family Foundation, with Samantha Campbell President of The Campbell FoundationDec 13, 2022
Sybil is pleased to have Samantha Campbell as a guest on today’s episode. She shares her experience as a trustee at her family foundation working on what inspired her and her family to make a difference, and why giving is such an important part of her family’s DNA. Samantha talks with Sybil about what motivates her for giving, what her dad's motivation was for giving, what the foundation focuses on and why it excites her.
- What inspires people to give
- Tips and tricks for effective giving
- Critiques of the funding world
Samantha Campbell Bio:
In October of 2003, Samantha opened the Foundation’s San Francisco office and began as Program Officer of the Pacific Region, tasked with developing a portfolio of work focused on improving marine and estuarine ecosystem health. In those early years, her work addressed domestic needs to improve fisheries management in addition to advancing the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act.
In January of 2009, Samantha assumed the role of President of the Foundation, which brought the Foundation’s Chesapeake grants program under her direction. She has navigated the Foundation’s portfolio to focus on improvements to water quality in the two regions, and to a partnership approach across all Foundation initiatives.
She is currently a Trustee of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Samantha attended Syracuse University and earned a BFA in Advertising Design. She lives in San Francisco with her daughter and son.
Campbell Foundation for the Environment website: campbellfoundation.org
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Would you like to talk with Sybil directly?
Hello everybody! This is the season for giving, and one of the things that I think a lot about is why people give. So, the month of December is all about that. I'm investigating and thinking a lot about the motivations behind people like you who want to give back to the world. Why do you do it?
I am just so pleased that I was able to recruit Samantha Campbell to be an interviewee. Today, Samantha is one of my good friends and colleagues in the philanthropic space. She herself is a donor. Who is both a trustee at her family foundation and runs the family foundation.
So, she's going to talk with me today about what her motivations are for giving, what her dad's motivation was and is for giving, what the foundation focuses on and why it excites her and why she does this. Why does she spend her entire life trying to give back?
Samantha, I am so happy you are here on my podcast. I've been looking for you for a long time like a stalker, almost.
I'm sure you don't need to stalk me. I'm available to you at all times.
You're so nice about that.
Well, I'm so happy to have you on the podcast, and I've wanted to have you on. First of all, you're just awesome, and I apply as a colleague funder. We've funded things together, and I just really like talking to you about all that stuff.
But also, I thought that my listeners would enjoy hearing from you because our conversation is going to be long. How do people do it? Why do people give some of your tips and tricks for effective giving strategies?
And the fact that you are not only helping run the foundation, you are a but you also member of the foundation, and it was your dad that helped start the foundation, so we're going to talk about sort of the reasons you all, as a family, decided to focus.
Some of the things I think the folks who are listening are going to enjoy and of course, I'm sure we'll talk about it. other things, too, because that's what we do.
Well, Sybil, thank you for inviting me. This is it; I think this is the first podcast I've ever been interviewed for.
Oh, great. Yay, it's fun.
It's fitting that you do a podcast because you're really fun to talk to. You're well known. for that, and also very well known for being a good listener, so it's just a good format for you, yeah?
Thanks for saying that! Well, Samantha, let's talk about Samantha; let's talk about who you are. Let's talk about who you are. Let's talk about that first and what inspires you to give personally.
All right, well, I have to give a disclaimer first.
Just so you know, if you were expecting me to be gentle and kind, think again. You see, just because we give in philanthropy doesn't mean we have only positive things to say about the giving landscape. So, I might be a little bit critical sometimes of the landscape, but that's part of the reason why I give, because I feel we can make a difference in different ways and have a different way of thinking about giving, and that offsets some other decisions that other funders might make.
Yeah, I like that about you. We always talk. In terms of those kinds of things, such as the challenges and the pieces, we're going to unpack.
Tell me a little bit about your life story, like how you got to where you are now. and then I will follow up with you.
All right, well, I'm the president of the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, and Keith is my dad. He's still living. He lives in Baltimore, where I grew up, and I live in San Francisco, CA, where I've lived for over 25 years. And when I first moved here in 1995, I was looking for a job in a different industry based on my graphic design degree, and in about 1998, dad started the foundation, so I wasn't around him when he started the foundation.
I'll talk about why he started the foundation later.
When I was in my twenties, I thought about it as my father's oyster business.
Because he was working in the Chesapeake Bay? That's funny!
Yeah, and he kept talking about oysters, and thought, I don't know what he was talking about, I wasn't interested in it I just had no idea what he was talking about.
His background and where he's from are oysters. He was the first holder of wealth in his family, so his money came from his company, an investment advisory called Campbell and Company, which still exists and is headquartered in Baltimore right now.
So anyway, in 2003, he said, "I'm thinking of making the foundation bigger and contributing more money to the foundation. And I was wondering if you'd be interested in working for the foundation”, and I said, "No way. I don't want to work. For you. I live in California”, and I just didn't want to work for my dad. That sounded horrible.
And he and I had several conversations after that. Dad and I kind of worked out some ground rules, and I will say that my dad is not a micromanager, although you know he has some other endearing qualities. But no, he is not one of them.
And so, we worked it out like, "OK, I will sort of have my domain over here as a program officer," and he said, "Wouldn't it be neat if we had kind of bookends? We have the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast. Maybe we could have San Francisco Bay on the West Coast”. Or something, but the only limitations were the surroundings: the large umbrella and the water beneath it. And then, who knows?
So, I was given, and I didn't have a lot of money. I had no, you know, ceiling. So, I just started learning from the ground up and somebody used the word "prospecting." When I first met with them, they told me, "Oh, you're just prospecting." Yeah, I guess that's what I'm doing, and so I'd meet one group, and then they'd send me to another group, and I'd meet that group, and we just sort of started to form a network. Get educated and make grants right away. Gate, because doing is the best way to learn. There is a way to participate collaboratively.
Yeah, that's perfect. I enjoy that story, and I like how you say, "There's no one like you." It always makes me think, and now you're like, full-on …
Yeah. So then, in 2009, I just had my first child, and my dad was like, "You know, I don't want to be president anymore." Will you do it? Oh, what great timing! Sure, yeah, I'll do it. But that meant I was from 2009 sort of having oversight over both programs, so the West Coast program and the Chesapeake program. So, yeah, that's where my presidency started. Where I am now
Yeah, and we met when you were just prospecting, I believe, because we were doing ocean stuff together and that kind of thing.
So, let's talk now about it. There are so many things I want to unpack with you. The first thing is that you said that sometimes you can be a little harsh, which I always appreciate about our funder world, let's talk about that. What are some of your criticisms of the funding world, and then what follows? Let's talk about what inspired your father to start giving in the first place. But first, your critique, Samantha.
So, it's like a whole podcast in itself. podcast series in itself, but I'll try to be constructive because that's why we're here: to try and support each other and be productive and supportive. and, you know, considerate.
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But I like to call myself a student of the game in philanthropy because I have no background in anything that I'm doing right now. It's all on-the-job learning, and when I first started, I was involved with a lot of funder groups because I thought, "Well these other people have been working on these issues longer than me. First, I want to learn the priorities; I'm a newcomer to philanthropy because I have no prior experience with anything that I'm doing right now.”
And then I wanted to find ways—you know, just jump right in and work together and watch them learn from their processes and stuff. But, you know, I knew instinctively that our job in a financial institution is to hold money in trust and to maintain public trust, which means that we are essentially providing customer service to people who are not necessarily looking for it.
The grant customer is the public at large. The people and the world benefit from our work, so this is a value that I try to instill in everyone who works with me at the foundation and that I am constantly thinking about. Is it serving them correctly? The public. And then also the grantees, when we're talking about grant documents and due diligence and knowledge one of the things that have irritated me over the years, is how long funders tend to stay with issues, particularly in the environment.
I'm very sensitive to using these kinds of words. It became clear to me after a short time looking around for quote measures, such as impact or impact or measures or durability because those are buzzwords that say to the guarantee, we're only going to put up with this as long as we can prove it, has proven that you're not going to make progress, and this isn't going to be scalable or have the right impact or something.
And the environment especially, but in lots of areas like social justice, this is a really good example. Health and Human Services is another good example. You wonder: Are we even making a dent, and how can we know that we are doing a good service to the public if we change our direction? We conduct an enumeration every three years based on the results that we perceive.
The right results are so hard to track down. It's the issue that you care about. The long haul
Oh, there's so much to unpack there.
And well, I'll just make one other comment.
But I want you to keep talking because I have some good ideas. We're going to talk. after the podcast about my thoughts there.
But another thing that is important to me is the ability to stick with something that does not imply funding the same strategy.
You know the definition of insanity, right? It's as if you're doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time. It doesn't mean that it means, like, "We've been funding the Chesapeake Bay since 1998 and there's a lot that's gone on since 1998, and there's a lot of good news. And then there's a lot of discouraging news.
But what I like about the job is that we're always, you know, forming deep relationships in that community, and that community means, you know, a whole watershed. It's six states, so it's not just one. We're there to learn as we go with those who make up the community and see the political ups and downs Ecological ups and downs, as well as ups and downs a part of orienting the work and then reorienting the work—you know what I'm talking about. That's what helps, then so be it. However, if you leave soon, you don't build any trust, and then that affects the next funder that comes along because of what the people are like. So, are you going to be like that other guy? Or, you know, a fly-by-night donor who gave us money for a couple of years and then disappeared, like, how can we build a program around that kind of capricious funding, so
Right and then and then. If you cut it too short, you get into what I call a "funder bubble," where you don't get the real scoop from grantees or the community because they don't trust you.
I value all the best conversations I've ever had, especially with people who trust me and are telling me sensitive information that is so helpful, and then we can be partners.
And then any other important information, because I know a lot of funders are listening and thinking well.
But yeah, that's what I believe. I know that, but I can't convince my board or my trustee,s or family members, that we are making progress. And I, as a trustee of the foundation and a family member, wear all these hats. Officer Hat. I wear the president's hat of the organization, and I also wear the hat of the board of trustees. Had you known the Founders, my daughter, and so on, I would have said that trustee outreach was the most underserved area of philanthropy.
People are so afraid for trustees to talk to each other about how they feel about what they're doing, and it's kind of like a taboo because people are afraid to admit it. I don't know that we've made that much progress. You know because they don't understand how.
To define the progress,
That's the issue.
Yeah, and it's such a great point about trustees talking to trustees like foundation officers talking to each other about where they think they're going and how well it's happening. And you know, yeah, I love all that.
Oh my gosh, this is so hard for me because we usually have a nice back-and-forth. And with this podcast, it's all about you.
So, as I previously stated, I know I still want to go to what inspired you and your father, even though I know you have some great stories about funding in the Chesapeake, and I'd love for you to tell me a couple of these stories, such as your recent work with the Amish. Oh my gosh, it sounds amazing. Just tell us a couple of stories, please. I think that will illustrate why you give.
OK, well, I also think if you're not having fun, that's just a damn shame, and so I'll say that to any trustee or anybody who works in philanthropy. There has to be some happiness involved. Even if it's the hardest topic, like homeless kids, hunger, or other topics that just involve human suffering, you bring joy to the community and the grantee world, and you express your gratitude.
It's just it again. It deepens those relationships, so I'm sure you'll hear me talk about these stories, and there's an element of joy and fun in them because it can be a very discouraging line of work, right? And so, you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. And so, as much as your grantee partners do, they work so hard against a lot of adverse conditions as well. So, just to be a ray of sunshine
So, Chesapeake, Pennsylvania, has no waterfront on the Chesapeake Bay. However, there is the Susquehanna River, which flows into the Bay. One of the Contributions to nutrient loading in the Bay is cow manure, and there are a lot of dairy farms in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of cows in Pennsylvania, and a lot of Amish farmers raise cows predominantly for dairy milk. And when we started to think about working more intently and intentionally in Pennsylvania in 2015, we said, "I asked the Chesapeake Initiative staff, like, What about the Amish? For example, how many are there? How large is this population? What kind of contribution do they make? It was also relatively large.
I asked the second question. Well, I asked what other funders funding in Pennsylvania are and also what other funders are doing work with the Amish, and the answer was pretty much none. Although some people funded projects in Pennsylvania, many of our Chesapeake Bay colleagues did not. And I said, "Why aren't they funding the Amish if there's such a big contributor?" and they said, "Well, it's really hard because the Amish don't take government funding." They don't use computers or cell phones. They're hard to get in touch with, etc. They don't use traditional farming equipment, either. They use horses, horse-drawn tractors, and their technology. You know, for lack of a better word, is not the same as a conventional egg.
So, I said, "Well, that sounds juicy." We should get into it. That sounds fun! It's fun to figure out. Without going into the entire backstory, we ended up sending a pilot. Amish manure and manure People who are familiar with eggs may have heard of manure injection, which involves injecting liquefied cow manure into the soil to prevent runoff. Because runoff runs off more easily if it is spread on top of the soil, it does not enter the river's streams as much.
We came across an Amish farmer who had created an Amish complaint about a manure injector that I think required seven horses to dry, and it's this whole contraption. And we got to know him through the conservation district and the people he knew. Working with them And so we started this pilot, and he grew corn as well. And so, he did the manure injection on one area of his cornfield but not on the other. And then, of course, the corn grew, and he had pictures to show. Because the area where the manure was injected was so much higher, we held a Field Day, which is very It's important when you're working with any kind of farmer to have the farmer come out and see what's going on. On the other farmer's field
So, we hosted this field day, and then we hosted some educational events. But you know how Amish people are. They don't remember taking cover. Because money is at stake, they are extremely concerned about who is hosting.
So really, we don't like to take credit, like we don't like to say, "Oh, the Campbell Foundation did this," but we ran an ad in what is called the Amish Internet, which is kind of like the Yellow Pages. It's called the busy Beaver, and it's located in Pennsylvania, where they can find classified ads for sourcing seeds and other equipment and stuff like that and we ran this ad: We're hosting a breakfast at the Shady Maple, which is a place they love up in Lancaster, PA, and they have buggy parking for the Amish.
And so Amish farmers came to us. Breakfast and it said it was sponsored by the Campbell Foundation. Based on the ad in the busy Beaver, I was just like, "I'm going to cut this out and put it up on my desk because it just seems like a good idea."
It just tickles me. to have decreased that scale of minutiae, but lo and behold, we have farmers now—Amish farmers—who are requesting more equipment, you don't buy it; you lease it from someone who contracts with someone to do the manure injection on your farm.
Well, now we're in a situation where we have more demand than we can meet physically. So now we're trying to figure out how to make more equipment and make it more accessible to these farmers. Conventional farmers are also demanding more conventional manure injectors, so that's just one example of getting your hands dirty. On a very, very, very, very small scale. Building relationships and then sort of watching the flowers bloom. It's fun, it's gratifying, and it's rewarding in the relationship or two where we just don't know where these relationships are going to go next, but we know with the manure injector what we've got to do next.
I love that, and I want to push back. It's not small-scale; it's local.
Local to me, large scale
I mean, you can make it; I think the other thing you're talking about here is you. You're referring to how significant it is. The difference you can make at the local level. I just really love that. Thank you for sharing your story.
And also, you know, pilots—that's another sort of message for your audience, right?
Working with other foundations on ocean issues in California early in my career taught me that large foundations were hesitant to fund pilots. They would ask all the time has anybody had done a case study on this. Has anyone ever done a pilot?
So, one way for us to get the ball rolling is, like, to get on the ground and do a pilot so that the larger foundations have some evidence. Some evidence-based decision-making instead of trying something on the ground, where it's so small scale and requires a lot of staff effort to manage, and so on.
So that was another incentive for us to do projects? at that size.
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That's great, and so this is a nice segue into why you and your dad did what you did. Dad discusses his decision to build a foundation.
Do the oyster thing.
Uhm, yeah, the oyster thing, but what was it? That is what prompted him to start this.
Well, do you know Looney Tunes and Sylvester the cat? So, do you know? Do you remember Sylvester the cat going scuba diving in his big, metal ball?
Yes, that's funny. That was in my mind when you said that I completely imagined it; I was thinking I wouldn't, but yes.
Right and my dad went. He's like that guy who used the earliest scuba equipment, and I think he looked like Sylvester cat with this big, metal thing over his head and the line that went to the boat, you know it's like one of those, right? It's not contained like Scuba, right?
He was and still is a fan of marine ecosystems. Allumette is always interested in fishing with his father because of the oceans, bays, and mostly saltwater. They moved to Maryland in the 1950s and just enjoyed recreation on the Bay, and my dad was fortunate to make a lot of money in his investment advisory business, and I think he came to the point. Like a lot of wealthy people, he looked down and said, I have more than I need—way more than I need. So, what else can I do? What can I do with this? That's going to feel helpful and feel good to me that I'm contributing
And this story that I kind of fall back on is that he kept getting these Save the Bay bumper stickers in the mail. One day he's like, "Haven't they been saved?" It's not like he used to be. He's like, "I've been getting these things for 20 years."
And so, he called. He's going up against the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Hello. I'd like to give you some money, basically, and he started writing checks basically out of his checkbook before the foundation became, you know, an actual entity, but right out of the gate, he got involved with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Because, as you know, they received his detention with all of their mail. You know, the mid-early to mid-late 1990s, and I believe he gives a lot of details if I could be more specific. He discovered that the environment does not receive a large percentage of philanthropic dollars; at least, it did not when he founded the foundation. It was probably 13th on the list of causes, with health and human services education being near the top. Of course, you and your listeners can think about universities and hospitals. Human Services research diseases and other things like that. Of course, that's a huge percentage, but I think he felt like a healthy environment is essential to all of us for anything else that we do, and so that was the motivation for him to pick the Bay other than his interests in it being healthy.
That's a fantastic story,
And there are so many details to unpack, right? Non-profits think about this as you're sending out bumper stickers. You're doing things with no idea how they'll turn out. That's going to help you in lots of different ways, but then you came along. You said no way, Dad, I'm not going to do this, but then you did decide to and sort of jumped in with both feet to focus on the environment as well. You know what was behind that in terms of this issue and how you got passionate about it too and started running with it.
Well, those were the ground rules I was given right in 2003
It's like, you know, environment, water, and then we'll see. And as I mentioned, prospecting. Earlier, I started meeting a lot of people who were involved. In my ocean work in California, I started out looking at the San Francisco Bay, but actually, the attention there those years was more on the oceans because it was during the George W. Bush administration, and they had done an Ocean Commission report on the health of the oceans in the US, and he's getting a lot of attention. It was sort of like people were treating it like a road map. Well, these are the threats such as overfishing and this one similar. That's something everybody can sort of galvanize around to work on, and so that's sort of how I drifted towards ocean and conservation work because all the groups I met were bringing up these Q commissions, the Ocean Report, and then the US Commission. On notions, report at the same time, they made the same recommendations.
Yes, I remember that.
and it seemed pretty good for a newbie, right? I didn't like them; I didn't know anything about these issues, I reasoned. So, if these two bodies are uniting around these recommendations, perhaps we should just follow them and focus solely on overfishing.
But I think you asked why. And I know there was that sort of nuts-and-bolts reason why there was a lot of attention and momentum around issues such as overfishing, and marine protected areas, we're putting marine protected areas in place. I think what carries through in my foundation career, through all these years,
The desire to drive and just the sort of natural tendency to be creative and to listen and respond to what's happening with our grantees and in the environment—the natural world and the political environment—and not get stuck trying not to get stuck in our own beliefs, assumptions, and biases about how we do things. How well thought out are they?
But to just be in the position to try, learn, and then do something different, adapt, try again, listen, learn, try, adapt, and do again, it's a very organic process, and it's not easy for a lot of people to pull off because they have a lot of decisions to make.
Barriers in their organization where they're going to be told No, a lot. And I don't get told no very often in my organization, which is fantastic.
I mean, it's a privilege, right? I get to try out my strange mad scientist lab, and I can come up with some amazing ideas. Here's another buzzword: indicators. I can rattle off some amazing indicators. We never would have predicted, and if I had been asked to come up with predictive indicators, I might not have come up with very good ones, but now I can show that acting on our beliefs and commitment to learning has resulted in progress, which is why people who have been working on these issues for 30 years have called me and said, "I never would have believed this could this have happened?” I mean, come on.
I believe you recognize that these are all critical points, and is there anything else I should say while you're talking? There's a really special space that we're inhabiting here in philanthropy, where you're able to be flexible and you're able to bring resources to the table in a way that maybe the government and other institutions can't because they have much stricter structures.
Now there are reasons for the stricter structures. Those need to be there at the same time. There's this wonderful feeling when philanthropy is done right. It can be done so well in collaboration with the government. Perhaps there are larger foundations or nonprofit organizations where you can come in and help spur creativity in ways that no one else can.
Again, it's important to have institutions as well, but there's this nice addition, and I love that you're bringing that up.
Is there anything else you want to tell my listeners that they should be thinking about if they're embarking? What advice do you have for them if they're deciding whether to start a new giving endeavor right away or if they've been giving for a while?
Other than that, you know what I started by saying, which is that I do get asked this question by people starting new foundations. Oftentimes, families are building new foundations. "You know, choose a location, and," I say pick a place that you love. Like #1, you don't have to love it because it's beautiful or because you have fun there.
But a place where you want to contribute, like something you care about, because that will keep you there. Then, pick an issue or a community that you care about and focus your efforts on it because you can find across multiple areas rather than just one.
But if it's an issue that you're truly passionate about, you'll never lose interest in it, no matter what terrible things happen. That's where we need you, and so that's my number one. My number one piece of advice: Then some have been there and those who are just starting. Then some have been there. And, you know, I think we all feel an urgency. Whatever field we're working in, don't be afraid to convey that urgency to your powers that be. Let the trustees or the people in power at your organization know what's going on. What's on the line? Don't use kid gloves because I think that they need to hear the truth about what you're seeing in your field.
I love all of that. Thank you for the advice.
I think my listeners are going to enjoy this podcast, and it's a really good one. You know, I wanted to do this podcast to help us start. Let me start episode two of my podcast series, and I say "us" because I'm also bringing in Fred, my husband, who is into this. So, we're in, and we're interviewing each other about different issues. And you're going to help us launch this, so thanks so much, Samantha.
We're launching a real conversation about giving and giving strategies and how to do it well, and there's not one way, right? And it can be really hard to do well, I think. And if you don't do it the right way, then you can end up wasting people's time and your own money. There are a lot of examples there.
So, I believe you are correct that that conversation is extremely beneficial because it allows people to consider whether pilots truly focus on their communities. Make an effort to stay for the long haul to truly get to know people and all of their wonderful words of wisdom. Thanks, Samantha.
One other important reminder for people who are giving is that you can get your feelings hurt and you are disappointed.
And if you establish your expectations. to always sort of be. prepared for what's going to happen. You're probably going to be pretty disappointed, so I think keeping an open mind is a good idea. as much as you can and trying to be flexible is impressive is how people can stick with this for long periods in their careers and lives. If it's your family or your foundation, it can hurt, and you can feel it. We know we don't. Talk a lot about how you build up, like, a relationship with someone, and then something happens that makes you think, "Gosh, did they misunderstand my what?" that I required from them at the time or what I expected from them.
Like, how did that go so wrong? Or was it me who communicated poorly? Or it's just a lot of relationship work, and I just tell people not to get discouraged because it happens to all of us. and it does happen on occasion. Sometimes it's them, sometimes it's somebody else otherwise in the past or the future, but it just feels. It's not talked about enough. the disappointments and how you just have to kind of keep going and not let that affect your outlook on future grantees. In future work, you just kind of let it go.
Thanks so much for that.
And yeah, I need—I can't help myself. I've got to add to that too.
I think it can be difficult to overcome the disappointments or challenges of philanthropy, especially when you're giving money away because a lot of times you do get too many compliments. I think so too.
We get into what I call the "Thunder Bubble," which I've mentioned a few times in this because people say yes to us too much, so when there is a challenge, sometimes you can forget that it can even be harder, and I think what we have to do is embrace those challenges because that's when you do the real learning too. I think so, yeah.
Similar, and thank you for putting this podcast together for support among our colleagues and in the field, which is needed.
Thank you for mentioning that I'm having a great time doing it. It's my creative outlet. Great! Thanks so much again.
All right, good luck out there.