#136 Why Hiring an Intermediary Can Set You Up for Success with Dory Trimble Founder of Trimble AdvisorsJul 10, 2023
Dory shares with Sybil how her services for donors will set them up for success . Dory explains why an intermediary will reduce the risk of ineffective fundraising. She explains how a donor can support the causes that are important by utilizing deftly planned tactics that put the good in fundraising.
- How to work effectively with intermediaries
- How to ensure your donations are well spent
Dory Trimble Bio:
Dory Trimble (she/her) is a problem-solver and service designer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the founder of Trimble Advisors, she spends her time helping social impact organizations get better at what they do and supporting high-net-wealth individuals in honing their philanthropy. She's a graduate of Oberlin College, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, and an enthusiastic explorer of the mountains and deserts near her home.
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Hello everybody. I just love this theme. It's all about intermediaries. And if you listened to my Sybil Speaks episode last week, you'll have gotten the details from me about why I think intermediaries are so important and how they can serve as you are essentially your fiduciary.
They are the kind of people who can help you with your giving strategy and help you be effective. Especially if you're super busy with life, as a donor, you want to make a difference with your money and your donations, but you don't have time to spend every day making sure you are doing a good job giving money away is an actual profession. It takes training and expertise. It is not necessarily easy. And that's why I've created my entire program called Do Your Good, and I also serve as an intermediary for my wonderful donors, who are my clients, to help them give money away effectively.
So, I've pulled out a few of my favorite interviews this month with people who are my friends and colleagues. And their intermediaries working in specific areas. This interview today is with Dory Trimble, and I wanted you to hear this because Dory has a special niche. What she does is, if you are just starting with your donation strategy and you want to make it sophisticated, she helps you structure a sophisticated strategy. She's got great experience, and I think you'll have a great time listening to this interview.
I did this interview in season one, and I wanted to rerun it for you so you could hear all these pieces with the idea in mind that intermediaries are really important. And they also aren't all the same. They can help you out at any stage of the journey you're on. And with Dory, she'll help you set things up already. Have a Listen.
Dory, I'm so happy you're on my podcast today. It's just been so much fun getting to know you, and I just really, really appreciate what you do. And you and I have just so much to talk about because we're both what I call intermediaries, helping funders and donors. Giving away money effectively is what it’s all about, so I've just valued our friendship. One of our colleagues connected us. Who was, who's like, he's like a leader in the nonprofit world? And he was like, oh my God, you guys have to. And he was so right.
Right. So true. Well, it's so much fun to be here, recording one of our conversations instead of just having it off the record. And yeah, it's been a real pleasure to learn more about your universe, and yeah. I think there are so many rich topics to talk about in this space that I'm excited to dig in.
So, Dory, I feel like you'll have a lot of advice. My clients are not my listeners because you specifically inhabit a really interesting space in helping donors. And specifically, what you've done is come in at the beginning, when a donor is trying to think through what their strategy should be, and you help them.
But before we get into your tips and tricks in terms of how you help donors think through those strategies, can we talk about, like, what got you? In this space, this philanthropic space, like, what did you do in the past, and what are your passions? What are your interests? And then we'll get into your tips.
Absolutely, yeah. So, I kind of came to this work was originally between grantees and Grantmakers, between nonprofits and foundations in the nonprofit space.
So, I've worked in a billion different sectors. I've been a medical interpreter for migrant farm workers I've worked with. After education, I've supported orthopedics. Visions of changing how they talk to their patients—all kinds of stuff most recently. I was the Executive director of the Channel Foundation, which is a solar energy grant maker founded by the professional climber Alex Honnold, whom you may know from his free solo.
Oh yeah. He's pretty amazing. So, what does funnel foundation do? It's specifically working on
So, the Hanna Foundation Works on solar. The Hannon Foundation funds Solar energy for a more equitable world. So, what that means is that the foundation supports local community-based nonprofits that are doing transformative energy access work and helps those organizations implement solar in their communities.
So, during my time at the Hormel Foundation, I supported pay-as-you-go. Solar, where folks could pay for their solar energy with hand-woven palm Macs or chickens instead of cash. So, using on-time payments instead we also supported solar at a climbing gym in Memphis. There are all kinds of different projects all over the country and all over the world, but the common thread is increasing social equity by improving energy access. So, I was there for four years.
Well, yeah, that's that. You were there for four years, and that's so cool because that's how we met. After all, Chris, who runs Access Fund, is a climber, and he's focused on all that. That's how he met you. And he's like, oh, my God, we've got to meet you guys got to meet.
Totally. Yeah, the climbing community connects people. That's one of my recreational passions, and it's been fun to see how that sort of motivates me. Into all these. Really interesting people are doing cool environmental and philanthropic work.
And is that how you feel? Because you're a climber? Is that how you ended up in the philanthropic space, though? Working for a climber—is that sort of how?
I know. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I've always worked for nonprofits. That was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and kind of since finishing the Peace Corps, I've always worked in that sort of way, like social good social justice space broadly in like a million different categories.
I originally connected with the Hummel Foundation because I'm a climber. I don't think I would have known that the entity existed otherwise, because when I joined the team, it was just a donor-advised fund with no full-time staff, and then over the course of my time there, we scaled up to a budget of about $2,000,000 into a C3, the whole nine yards.
But yeah, climbing is what brought me to that work, and it's been interesting. Kind of since leaving the Hannel Foundation and launching a consulting business of my own with a connection to sort of outdoor recreation and a passion for, you know, exploring the natural world and having big adventures, this has also been a real point of connection with a lot of the folks I work with. It's a nice way to keep everything feeling kind.
Of course, I like emphasizing that, though the reason I asked that question is that, you know, a lot of donors want to bring in somebody who's like an intermediary to help them give grants out effectively. They must choose a person who shares their passion. Right.
So even though you're focused on solar and renewable energy at Honnold, you were brought in because of your climbing too, and that interest and that interest has something in common, so I think. That's super cool. Thanks for that, Dory.
So now let's talk about your business and how you transitioned into this really interesting space. Talk about what? You do a little bit more.
So, you know, I left the Arnold Foundation about a year ago. So, in the summer of 2022, right? That was a year ago.
With COVID time, it's like, who knows what year it is? Yeah, I guess so.
I know. Yeah, mine is classical.
Wait, but this? No. This is 2022 now, Dory.
This is 22, not 2021.
That was like 2021, yeah.
Yeah, it was. A year ago, I was like,
So yeah, I left about a year ago, and it's funny that you were saying that. It's nice to Work with people who are intermediaries and who share passions. With clients because I Think candidly. My passion is learning new subject areas. A lot of my clients work in subject-matter spaces that aren't necessarily places where I worked before. When I started at the hotel foundation, I'd never worked in solar. But what I love is systems, and that's kind of what I bring to my clients: a real passion for building things from scratch, entering the void where no one knows the path forward, and piecing together a solution. To a complex, nebulous problem.
So, can we just say something there? So, on the one hand, you were brought in with Donald because of a passion that was in common with the donor in a certain sense. But now what you're focused on are systems, and that is a really important thing. In addition, one thing I talk about a lot is how important it is for donors to connect with intermediaries who are connected with the issue they work on.
But this is also an additional piece. If a donor is interested in really creating systems, there might be a different kind of intermediary that they want to bring in at the beginning to help set up that framework. And that's a space where you're inhabiting Dory. So, let's talk more about that.
I mean, this is something you and I have talked about. Sybil, I'm. Kind of. I'm the. A person who builds in the beginning. It's part of the reason why I decided to step down as the Executive director of the Honnold Foundation and sort of launch out on my own. I'm not a long-term operator; what do I always tell clients or potential clients? I'm the person you come to when You have, like, one big question: How do I turn this project into something real?
It is a donor advisory fund. I want to scale up. Don't know how. What do I do? Do or. How do I make sure that we're giving? Money to the Right Organizations. Or what do I do about the fact that my foundation is We are about to grow by 2X, and we have no idea how to scale. I take those big questions that have these sorts of far-reaching, weird implications for the entire system and turn them into something manageable. I think something I've discovered is that a lot of people find those big questions intimidating and kind of horrifying. I love those questions because they mean There's a lot of discovery.
So, I'll come in, I'll think about the question, and then I'll start being kind. Of digging in.
And that's really what my role is: answering those big questions, building a system that someone else can operate, and then taking a step back so my clients can make things work on their own.
That is so well said, and it's a really helpful service for folks because let's talk about the downside of donating. Is interested in giving, and they have these big questions they're standing in front of. The way of actually taking that next step.
Talk about it as if someone didn't bring you on. I mean, of course, maybe they could. Bring somebody else. On, but if they didn't bring you on or think through how to tackle these questions, what are the pitfalls that you've seen people hit up against if they're not adequately thinking through the next steps?
The biggest pitfall that I see folks run into is mostly stagnation. It's pretty easy to keep giving the way you've always given and never go too deep into whether or not it's working. And when I say whether or not it's working, I mean whether or not it's working for the people and the causes that you're supporting. I think it's important to remember that the whole point of philanthropy is to help the entities doing the work.
It's easy to get lost and have a little bit around, like, well, you know, naming rights and donor acknowledgments. Do I feel like I have a good relationship with this executive? But when I think about this work, what I try to think about is: are you advancing the mission of the organizations that you serve? Because that's really what a funder does: serve the entities that they're supporting, not the other way around.
And I think in situations where folks maybe have these big questions about the efficacy or the impact of their giving or the direction that their organization is going to go, if those questions don't get answered, it's not Like everything is a catastrophe. Usually, good impacts are still taking place. Powerful work is still being funded. It's just not as good as it could be.
And when I think about, you know, the 10s of millions of philanthropic dollars that are just floating around and oftentimes getting deployed without a huge amount of intention just because it's hard, you know, that's why you and I have jobs. It's hard to give away money. I think that there's, like, a missed opportunity there.
It's not like the house is on fire. If you don't bring in someone. To help you answer those big questions. You're just not taking it as far or as deep. As you could, and I'm motivated. By excellence when it Comes to giving. I want to be sure that we're doing everything we can to make the world a better place and answering the big, sticky, weird strategic questions that are slowing down your philanthropy. It's a Powerful way to ensure that you are having the most positive impact possible.
OK, Dory, so we're going to do some role-playing here and now for an ad, but don't go away because we're going to do some cool role-playing next. I am going to pretend that I am a donor, OK? And I'm going to come to you and say, I have a few questions. OK, so I'm like, oh my gosh, because some of what you do I do. And I also do long-term implementation work on the environment and natural resources. But what you're talking about is that I've had these kinds of questions.
I'm going to pretend I'm a donor and bring some questions to you. OK. The first one I'm going to say to you is, Oh, my gosh, Dory. OK, so I've been giving to education nonprofits that are working on education because I care about that issue, especially education programs that are supporting kids with learning disabilities. Because my youngest son has a learning disability.
Of course, it is all hypothetical, but I'm just coming to you like I'm pretending I'm a donor, right?
So here I am, caring so much about this issue. But here's the thing, Dori… I have a long list of nonprofits now. It just keeps coming. I'm getting more and more on this list, and I only have a certain amount of money to give away. And so now I'm giving less and less money to each nonprofit. I'm feeling more and more distant from my giving. But I still care about it. The issue and I don't want to go away from it, but I don't. I feel like I'm having an impact.
So, what do I do, Dori? How do I rearrange my things so that I can still be impactful? I can still support those nonprofits, but I know that it makes a difference. And it's not just like every additional nonprofit that comes on, I'm just giving everybody less money. It doesn't feel as effective. We're not supporting the cause either. Help me. Dori, help me.
Don't worry; I'm here to help. That's a great question. I think it's a common one. The way that I would think about it in terms of strategy So there's that feeling of being in the weeds, kind of nauseated and overwhelmed by how many different things you want to fund and the fact that your bucket is only so big. Take that feeling. Honor it and set it on a shelf and zoom out. We have to think about what it is that you're trying to do.
So, we talk about strategy. How are you adding nonprofits to your list? What keeps them on your list? Are they all based in the same place? That's important. What are you doing? Place-based funding, or are you? More interested in funding. Like just this specific subject matter. Who do you want to be sure these nonprofits are serving specifically, not just kids with learning disabilities? Maybe kids from specific communities or with specific needs There are all kinds of really interesting ways to narrow in on the impact. That's the most valuable for you and those organizations, one way of looking at it.
You have, say, a relatively small bucket. And money is to look at organizations with smaller budgets where your dollar can help them more. I think it's a common trend in philanthropy to be a little bit cagey about giving to organizations with small budgets. And my thought on that is that there's always a time and a place when giving big to organizations with small budgets can swamp them and destroy their work.
And there is a time and a place where giving to small nonprofits is most appropriate. The powerful thing you Could do. This donor is feeling a sense of overwhelm, attention, and frustration around their giving. I would sit down with them and talk through what it is that they're trying to do. To get to the heart of that giving strategy. And then help them work through that list of nonprofits to make sure that they're funding the folks who need the most help, who can do the most with those dollars, and who are you really in line with.
OK, this is great. OK, now we've gone through that, I'm going to focus my efforts. A little bit more, but now how do I say no to some of the nonprofits? Because, if I'm focusing, there are some that I like. I've been giving, and now I feel bad because I'm going to have to focus and maybe give more to a few. How do I transition in that way?
I'm a proponent. With radical honesty, when it comes to transitioning away from existing gifts, I think it's really easy to forget that the organizations you fund are filled with people. You are a person. There's this, nearly power dynamic that comes into play with funder and grantee relations. I think the only way to fix it or start fixing it. Tell the truth and do it with warmth.
So, if you're going to have to turn down a gift that you've been giving for a long time, explain why and tell the grantee. Sort of. If there's a pathway to getting funded again in the future, what is that? It looks like building systems around stuff like this is important.
So, if you're giving on a pretty large scale and have been for a long time, if you're considering Like making public how you choose who you fund and sharing that with organizations, so they understand where the benchmark is. If they decide they want to meet it.
I also think it's OK to say, Look, I have limited funds, like it's been such a privilege to support your work in the past. We're going to be funding different projects moving forward on a runway. So that this doesn't damage you in an outsized way, I'm going to continue funding you for the year to come. And then in the next year, we'll decide to spend down our gift, so providing organizations with time to figure out how to fill that gap can be powerful too. So be honest and give them time.
Yeah, I love that advice.
So, let's talk now... You've just embarked on this independent consulting business, and it's booming as it should, as anybody who's listening to this can tell that Dory is awesome. What are some of your favorite conversations with your clients? What are you doing right now that is so interesting to you? What problems are you trying to solve for folks?
It's a great question. A client that I've been working with for pretty much half the year. This has been a really interesting situation. It's a Family foundation, and when I joined the team, the full Foundation was right around $31 million, and they were giving away 5% a year, which is kind of like people talking about it as the legal amount. The legal minimum
So, they've been giving away about 5%, and they're in an interesting situation where there's going to be a lot more funds dropping into this foundation over the course of the next 10 years. So, it's going to peak right around 42,000,000 and then. They're going to start cutting back.
So that's the last money that's coming into the foundation, and something that we got to work on together is some cool financial modeling where we said, OK. How long will the foundation last if we give away 5% a year? How long will it last if we give away 7% a year? How long will it last if we give away 10% a year and model out those trajectories? Given that 5% a year is the same thing as existing for infinity, You kind of assume that the stock market is going to continue to grow at the same rate, which, like the Lord, you only know in the present moment. But we assume you know that 5% a year balances with stock market growth.
It's like you know how to model it out. It's like we'll lay the foundation in like 300 years, which is a long time. 10% is really fast. That puts your Cliff at, like, 30 years for a foundation of that size.
And then 7% somewhere in between now and then, you guys will have a really interesting conversation with the family about What they want to do. What kind of impact are they trying to have with this Family Foundation, which supports education work primarily, and, you know, is this urgent? Do we want to spend more to support kids?
Now and then, thinking too about the family itself, there's a sort of intergenerational quality, so it's grandparents, parents, and kids who are kind of all in the mix here. And the kids are all relatively young. Young right now. Did they want to make sure that those children were able to kind of think about how they wanted to be involved in family philanthropy? Did they want to set it up so that you knew? Next generation of kids. I care too much for these big sort of strategy conversations, but they're also family conversations about, what is this money for? Who is it for? And how quickly do we want to give it away?
It's been really fun to work through that with this. Mine and the place where we ended up Was treating 5% like the floor and 10% like the ceiling. So, starting next year, this Family Foundation will be giving away about 7% a year. And we built a flexible funding model where we can increase that number or decrease it a little bit depending on the needs of the organizations that they serve. So, it's been fun to work on that one.
That's great, Dory. OK, so this is just so much fun. I have a feeling my listeners will just wish they could. Like, listen to 10 hours of this. At least I do. Because I'm such.
The giver is a geek.
But Dory, what other words of wisdom do you have for the folks listening today in terms of, you know, I think we covered some great stuff, like how we can be effective givers. How can you think through systems right up front? How can you focus your strategies? If you're right now giving lots and lots of grants but not feeling inspired, how do you focus and make sure you refocus on where you want to go?
So how do you think about, you know, long-term intergenerational giving? But yeah, so I'd love you to leave my listeners with a few top-level words of wisdom from Dory Trimble. And then in the show notes, we're going to have how to get in touch with me. And everything. But please also say that out loud, because sometimes people do. Listening to this while they're running around.
Of course, we'll start with Because that's the less exciting part, I'll be taking something new. Clients later in the year. My website is trimbleadvisors.com, and if you're interested in working with me, the best way to do it is to just shoot me an email and we can talk about it. And if you listen to this podcast and you're like, Oh my God, I have a big question, Send me your big question because that's always kind of where those conversations go. I think in terms of advice, it's sort of high-level. Thinking about giving a cosmic sense. For me, I think that Giving money away, talking about money, and thinking about money can be uncomfortable for people. It has been that way for me in the past.
There's this feeling that it should kind of be a secret. There's not a lot of openness and transparency. About giving, especially at the family or personal level, folks tend to hold that kind of close, and it means That even when you can sense that, maybe there's Something that could. Be better about the way you're doing and the way you're giving. It feels hard to talk about it. It's hard to know. Whom should I ask? You can ask your financial manager, but they're getting paid based on assets under management.
So, they're not going to be like, Give." It all went away. I think it's OK to ask for help. To ask for it openly. Giving is not easy if you've never really given away big amounts of money; it's easy to be like, Yeah, just write a check. How hard can it be? Be to give away 5/10 thousand 100 thousand, $1,000,000. Right. There are so many valuable organizations that exist; you just give them a But of course, once you start Trying to do it, it is hard. You have to figure out where the money should go. You have to figure out who's capable of using it effectively. You have to make sure that you're not giving an entity too much or too little money.
That's kind of where I come in. Where someone like Civil comes in, there's a Whole universe. Of people. Out there who can make the process less terrifying? And I think if that's not in Your capacity to Work with someone who does this professionally, talking to your community about it can be really powerful. Normalizing, giving big, and making those conversations more public have a huge potential to just make our whole society better. So, I think the short version of my advice is to talk about Giving your money away because it'll
Help, that is so great. Dory, thank you for everything. Of these words of wisdom. And it's just really fun to say hello. Thanks for your time.
Of course. Thank you, Sybil. It was a pleasure.