#159 The Season 2 Top Takeaways for Effective Philanthropy with Sybil & Fred Ackerman-Munson

effective donor effective funding effective philanthropy Dec 17, 2023

Sybil and Fred look back on this season’s highlights. They highlight what they believe to be the most important takeaways to be an effective donor and philanthropist, based on all of the interviews and themes covered on the podcast this year. 


Episode Highlights:

  • Season 2’s highlights
  • Favorite episodes
  • What to expect in Season 3


Sybil Ackerman-Munson Bio:

With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, I work with philanthropic institutions and foundations interested in successful, high-impact grantmaking so that you can make a real and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms.


If you enjoyed this episode, listen to these as well:








Crack the Code: Sybil’s Successful Guide to Philanthropy

Become even better at what you do as Sybil teaches you the strategies and tools you’ll need to avoid mistakes and make a career out of philanthropy.

Sybil offers resources including free mini-course videos, templates, checklists, and words of advice summarized in easy to review pdfs.    


Check out Sybil’s website with all the latest opportunities to learn from Sybil at www.doyourgood.com

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Send in your inquiries through her website https://www.doyourgood.com/ or you can email her directly at [email protected].



OK, honey, are you Ready? This is what we're doing:  very funny… I'm laughing because we're interviewing in our apartment in Bellevue, WA because Fred works out of Bellevue for his work. And so, I realized, oh my gosh, we have to do this interview soon. But we're sort of Jerry-rigging. Is that the right word? Yeah, the actual podcast.

That's a word.

You know, and with this microphone, we're both, like, leaning over. Fred did a video that I will post on social media. So you'll be able to see what we're talking about.

It's funny. We're winging it. Yeah, it's OK.

I know we were laughing because we'll watch something like a TV series or a Netflix series with a podcaster on it occasionally, and they'll always have these fancy studios. And I don't; I don't know. I don't think most podcasters I know have that kind of fancy studio; at least, I don't.

And they have producers.

I know. What's that all about?

Where's my salary, AM? I am a producer. OK, I don't get anything.

No, no, no, no. Yeah, anyway, OK, enough about that. Now, about the theme for today. It's such a fun theme today, Hun. I'm excited to talk about it with you Today.

We're done; it's the end of the year, so we're. I'm going to do sort of a re-cap. What hit us was all the different themes we worked on this year. What did we do? What we all talked about with everything. What stood out for you this year, I like looking back on it.

You want me to start, yeah.

Please, please.

Oh, OK, we didn't talk about this, so I have—a way to start.

I was hoping you could start one of them because one of our friends said I talked too much. They didn't say it this way, but they're like Sybil. You talked so much at the beginning of the podcast that Fred didn't have a word in edgewise.

It's OK. It's your podcast. Well, rather than talking about one, I had one. Idea about just really quickly listing. Them all. And then and then I had, like, so. And then, I have an idea about how to sort them out for me.

That'd be great.

Can I try that?

I love it.

All right, so we talked about what we have here. I think there are nine different things this year. You and I said well … and they were about how to fund disaster relief … the idea of spending down your endowment and building a foundation—we talked about effective collaborations, leveraging public dollars, and trust-based philanthropy. We discussed why you would use intermediaries to help you give away money. We talked about nonprofit finances and budgets. We talked about measuring impact; the last one we did together was about donor-advised funds. And so on.

And did you also bring it to indigenous communities well, although you and I didn't discuss that?

Yeah, see you and me.

I wanted to focus on it.

I didn't do that.

In all the interviews with indigenous community members, I didn't write, OK, but that was important. I loved that series. Yeah.

Yeah. So that's why I didn't. Yeah, that was a great set. I wasn't in on that one, although I did one with you long ago. But anyway, so the thing. 

So here's what struck me first: Well, some things struck me. First of all, wow, you work hard. Simple, and I can't believe you do all this. So that is just wild.

I was at all our interviews; wow, this is so great. It made me excited about doing it, and I want to do it in the future, too. To keep doing. This is fun.

So that's. That blows me away. As always, my wife is amazing.

So this is the thing that I noticed about the topics that we have. Where they were kind of for me, I could divide them into two things. 

One was like trends and big ideas in philanthropy and giving away money, and the other was like mechanics. For example, when talking about trust-based philanthropy that's a big trend and idea, and we're trying to change philanthropy and how people do it. 

And then, when we talk about budgets or measuring impact? That's really about the mechanics of day-to-day giving away money. Both of those are important, but I have to tell you, love, the thing that gets me going after 20 years of doing the daily mechanics of donating money is the big ideas. That's the thing that stuck out for me. What are those things that have the potential to do? Reshape philanthropy and how people give away money effectively.

Yeah, let's talk about that more. What are some of those pieces thinking about what we did and talked about this year? What big ideas were you inspired to think more about based on the podcast series?

Well, I loved trust-based philanthropy for a lot of reasons. I remember when I was very new as an executive director of a foundation, and I thought I knew what was happening. I have been in nonprofits, and I know how to do this. 

Twenty years later, now I realize I was so green, and there was so much. I didn't know. And one of the big things about philanthropy is.

About philanthropy… Because you've been a nonprofit activist for years. 

I've been a nonprofit activist for 20 years and do philanthropy.

You did know a lot.

Giving away money effectively is different, and it's. It's hard to do it well. But the thing I didn't. Know and understand how to. How do I put my ego aside? First and foremost, trust the grantees, really listen to them, and establish relationships with them so that they can tell me the truth.

Even when stuff is going, it is hard, right?

Yeah, even when it's going wrong, I want to have a relationship with a grantee where they just call me up or when we're sitting down at lunch, and they just tell me straight up. 

Like you're a colleague? Yeah, it is important. 

A colleague and a friend, yes.

And they trust your trust-based philanthropy.

Yes. So, they trust me, and I trust them. And I might have advice or something, but. When I look back on 20 years of philanthropy, that was one of those where it's like, geez, I wish I had done that better in the early.

So, you said that when you started as a philanthropist, you felt like you were being more like a dictator. Here's how I think it should be. What are you saying rather than listening to the grantees first and then figuring out how to be a supportive partner?

Well, I probably had too much ego for some of that. And then the other thing is philanthropic…

You are viewing your philanthropic partners, so to shoot you down a little, too?

Yes. Yeah, that helped. But yeah. 

But there was another thing at the time, too. Didn't they say, who is this guy with his big ego?

I was in philanthropy. We did many things, like metrics, your ratio of administrative costs to program costs, and all of that. Yeah, I guess that's all good to look at. But you know that's. Not what creates results. I spent a lot of time doing things and made the grantees spend a lot of time doing things—that at the.

Did he work? If you had too much busy work,

Well, it feels more like busy work at the end of the day. Yes, do I need to know how much you spend on administration? Sure, I guess. But does that matter? Talk to me about how impactful you are in the world.

Well, I bet the nonprofits are probably, if they're listening to this, saying, Yeah, we agree with you. But we don't want to have to be.

Well, yeah, I know, I know, but.

I do a lot of busy work, so trust-based philanthropy was something that you and I talked about and that you interviewed a bunch of people on, and it is about the philanthropic world trying to get their act together. At this point, I thought that was amazing. But why don't you tell me?

I loved it, so if people are interested in going back and listening to some of the interviews here on trust-based philanthropy, I love the interview I did with John Esther Lee. Thanks, John, for taking the time. He's the co-executive director of the trust-based philanthropic work, and he runs the Whitman Institute philanthropic organization, and it was a good decision. The trust-based philanthropic effort was a five-year initiative to get people to consider this work.

And many folks practice trust-based philanthropy, even though they never knew before the term was coined, right? It's about really creating that good rapport. And I loved that interview. I did it actually in season one and then. I rerecorded I aired it for this last season, so. Anyway, thanks for bringing that up. Honey, that's good.

Out of the stuff we talked about, what got you going?

Well, I mean, I loved the whole journey. I love the journey, so I decided to do my podcast on themes in Season 2, dig into specific areas, and talk to experts in those areas because I wanted to think more about it. It is because of when. I'm just like you said before about the two different sides to this: the practitioner side, AB, and ABC. 

Like, how are we measuring impact? How are we doing with budgets?

And then there's the big picture stuff, like how can we be better as philanthropists, and how can we continue to make sure that we're showing up for the grantees in the way they need it to succeed at the issues we all care about.

I just loved all the themes; some things stood out to me. One is the disaster relief conversation. So, to me, that was in January. That was the first one I did. And it was right after Hurricane Ian ravaged Florida. I also talked to Michael Chapman, a client of mine. I also help Cape Coral. It's called the Community Foundation now, but it's in Cape Coral, FL, which was Ground Zero for this disaster. I interviewed him in episode 112 so folks can go back and listen to that if they want, and it was so intense. Right after that, a disaster happened.

And to think about and hear from him, I also interviewed an organization that works on disaster philanthropy called Disaster Philanthropy. Regine, Webster, and Sally Ray. I interviewed them for episode 113. All of those guys they talked about, like, how do you disaster for it to be so interesting to me because it brings in it's an immediate thing, a lot of people, all of a sudden want to put lots and lots and lots of money into solutions because it's a disaster that just happened? 

But the recovery is years and years. The money, though, comes in right away. And then people get distracted or give in to the next disaster. And so how do you do a sustainable funding strategy when people tend to be sort of bright, shiny objects and look at things, and that's why, like with disaster relief? I was interested in how we navigate the immediate.

When there's all this money coming in, and there are people from the outside of the community coming in and saying they know what to do, blah, blah blah, how do we do it in a way that honors that local community and that can support durable restoration after the disaster? Anyway, each one of these themes got me thinking that way, where it wasn't very easy.

Another area I loved was the series on donor-advised funds. It's funny; it sounds wonky—donor-advised funds. But I ended up interviewing extra people for that.

I usually only interview a couple of people per scene. I interviewed a whole lot of people. Because the owner's advice is that funds are on the rise, and there's. A big question about … how do you put it? How do you do philanthropy, right? Do you do it directly? Do you spend less? Do you immediately put it straight into the nonprofits and intermediaries, or do you do something like put money in a donor-advised fund and then slowly give money out over multiple years in a very different way? And on the one. There is this movement for spending down, and we have a series on that.

We talked about that, too.

And I interviewed.

Too, yeah. Which was also interesting here.

Yeah. Another of my favorite interviews was with Bruce Laurie from the Ivy Foundation, whose foundation he's spending $100 million on. Climate change is episode 120. Then the donor-advised funds are on the other side of the coin, and donor-advised funds people are like, hmm.

Let's take our time. Let's think about it. But. They're On the rise in the United States, so at this point, on the one hand, you hear all this flash about Mackenzie Scott or all the different spending down things happening.

On the other hand, people are quietly also putting money into these donor-advised funds. And so I loved my interview in episode 152 with Helen Flannery from the Charity Reform Institute because she is concerned.

She researched how all this money goes into DAF's donor-advised funds, and we don't know what it will do afterward. However, I also interviewed experts who think donor-advised funds are important, and I see many of DAF's benefits.

Our foundation uses one right now because the grantees are not ready to get the money, but we need to get it out the door. So, we're just sitting there waiting for the grantee to be ready.

You talked about it. Right.


Right. And so I interviewed Andrea Rush from National Philanthropic Trust Episode 151 and a few other folks utilizing DAFs creatively. This and you and I have a little teeny, tiny DAF. Yeah, but we're trying, right? We are at the Oregon Community Foundation because, yeah. Yeah. And the reason we use the…

Oh, it's So cute, I know. We're trying to put a little money away every month.

DAF instead of giving it away immediately because we don't have that much money to give yet, so it will slowly build up, and then we can. Then, start giving when it's larger, and it also goes to our kids afterward, and then they can, which will give them an ethic of giving.

So that's the kind of thing. So. Oh my gosh, so much stuff. But. But you asked me, so I started up. But you were talking just about trust-based philanthropy. But there's other stuff. I'm sure you were thinking about it, too, Hun.

Well, OK. So again, we deal with budgets of all sorts all the time. Of the mechanics of how to give, and that just doesn't excite me because I've been doing that for 20 years. But it's important, right?

And, you know, I think. I geek out on it more and want to thank my wonderful associate, Alyssa Aplin, who is so great. And she does a lot of the wonderful admin stuff and helps me with my business through her. I contract her, and through her, I see the beauty of it, too, because she's so good at it.

Yeah. Oh, it's all important.

Yeah, it's nice to see those. But I know you're a big-picture thinker, honey.

Well, oh geez. When I think about the mechanics of giving away money and the stuff that, in terms of everything we talked about, is one of the things I would call mechanics, it's about effective collaborations. 


And we talked about that a lot, and we talked about it both from the grantee side, like what it is like to have grantees collaborate and have donors and foundations collaborate.

And I think I've got to say almost everything I've done at the foundation that I work for with the family's money, who I represent, and everything I've done that's been good has been through collaborations with other foundations. That has allowed our relatively modest-sized foundation to make a difference in the world: collaborating with other foundations.

 All of the good stuff is that we've accomplished at our foundation that I work for with the family's money I represent through collaborations with other foundations and donor partners because we don't have enough money ourselves to make a difference in the world. I mean collaborating with other funders and donors in the United States and Canada. 

That's why it's just so important. It's like a mechanical thing, right? Like, oh, are you a member of environmental Grantmakers, biodiversity funders, or whatever? But it's also. It is important because those relationships allow you to make a bigger difference in the world.

Yeah, I love that, and you know it's interesting because I'm working on a project to support a group of funders to think about funder collaboration on a different issue that's not environment because you work on environment, honey. And it's interesting to try to think things through. How can we encourage funders and support them in realizing this?

And we were thinking about how important that collaboration can be. Whether or not you have a strict metric of like. How many dollars are going into XYZ? But we were on three calls today or yesterday thinking through a particular problem we're trying to solve, and it's so important to do it with three or four other funders supporting us, you know?

Yeah. So that's one of those that's like, yeah, OK, technically, that's about mechanics. But it's really about impact.

Right, right. Do you want to say more about some of the stuff you care about?

Well, when you go and., I'll do one more.

The end. No, no, you go. You go now.

So, one of the other things we talked about was Sybil, which is kind of close to home, but it's an intermediary; it's basically what you and I do; we do it in various.

Intermediaries and program officers. 

One thing I realize is that often when I say intermediary, I mean program officers at foundations, community foundations, or others that bring grants in and then grant them out. But many other people think of intermediaries, like community foundations, who bring grants in and then take them out. Who are fundraisers and grantors? 

But I think it's important that you know us; we're program officers. We are also intermediaries. Sometimes, folks who create foundations tend to think that they don't need program staff, and I think that, of course, I'm biased, but that can be a mistake. So anyway, keep talking, yeah.

Well, that's all I was going to say—that is your job and my job in various ways. Is that we help families give away their money effectively and create change in the world. A lot of people have decent wealth. Maybe they're businesspeople. They're busy making that wealth still.

Maybe they're trying to enjoy their wealth with their family. Who knows what's happening, but they don't have 40/50 hours a week to work on issues, negotiate things, work with other funders, and create change. The world is so, oh my God, if you have that kind of wealth, try it yourself if you want, but intermediaries can be addictive to your actions.

So are you if you're trying to create change in the world. Have this kind of wealth. Whether modest or large, you can hire someone part-time or full-time, maybe just a contractor, to help you figure out what to do. It's just so key to getting things done rather than trying to be, no offense, but rather than trying to be an amateur.

So, this is a topical conversation because I was just talking to one of them. My friend is a program officer and is also doing contract work. And she was telling me how she's getting contracts from this one foundation. That doesn't have any issue with area expertise or staff, and she's like, OK, I'm thinking through how to recommend to them what to do. But there's no staff, and then there's the trustees. But, like, they're wonderful.

But they don't know the issues, and it can get complicated. So yeah, having a program officer or somebody—even a contractor—who knows those pieces. And I loved the Interview Episode 137 with our friend David Secord. Who is one of those folks? Right. He's just so awesome. Love him. He's funny. Yeah, he's really funny. I'm not sure what he was like.

And just fun.

I wanted him to crack more jokes during our conversation. Thing. But he was funny. Anyway, his picture that he had. I show like put. Up is him with a, I think it. It was a pepper. So anyway, I hope you guys listen. That is because it gives you an idea of the kind. Of the person we're. Talking to him, he was a program officer at the Wilberforce Foundation, and now he has his consulting firm.

One last thing on that one last pitch on this for intermediaries. If you're investing in the stock market, you don't do that alone, right?

Sometimes they do.

I know. But, like, what's the? They have a track record there. Right. Right. You have financial managers. You have people researching the companies your money is being invested in, even if you have a 40.

The financial managers, there are always managers.

1K or just some sort of group fund or whatever. Some people are researching to figure out what's going on and how to invest their money wisely. It's the same with philanthropy. Get some help, whether it's just in the beginning to help focus you or whether it's to run your programs and create change.

Don't do web-based philanthropy, or just look at the 990s. We know people who do that. So yeah, don't. Get up. All right, cool. This is so fun. This is like a therapy session for us, right? Is this like our marriage counseling?

No, no, I. I don't feel like we need marriage counseling.

No, this is our fun time. OK, so I think we had a great conversation. And let me talk a little bit with you too about what? I look forward to it in season 3.

Oh, I want to know. You haven't told me.

I have. Well, I did sort.

You do.

Yeah, but first of all, I guess before season three, though, we. We still have this as our last Fred and Sybil episode. I know everybody's crying.



No, no, no more friends. What are they going to do? And Sybil? I'll still bring you in as a guest. Host every once in a while, yeah. Oh my God, guest toast! Wait. Can I be one of those? Can I? Be a sidekick?

No, you're too important. I feel bad. You're my husband. I don't want to be like my sidekick. I would feel weird.

Oh, that would Be fun, though. Well, I think I like laughing at your jokes and things.

I don't have jokes. I'm not funny.

Oh, good point.

I don't know how to anyway; that's another story. But anyway, I still have a few more episodes in season 2 that I love. At the end of every year, I asked Laura MacDonald back from giving USA. I'm saying every year is season 2. 

So anyway, I'm going to start doing this as a tradition. I interviewed her last year and am also interviewing her this year.

The USA does a year of giving reports, so she talks about it over. She overviews all the different giving trends, and it's fascinating and amazing. And so, that's going to come up. And then, because AI is such a big thing, I haven't done a whole theme on this yet, but I've been mulling over it.

And so, I found a wonderful gentleman who's done so much on AI, and I've interviewed him, so he's going to be up. Then, there was also this organization called Climate Works; they reviewed giving, climate change, and philanthropic giving. And I'm excited. I'm also about to interview them as part of this season.

And a few other really fun ones are coming up for season 2. I just sorted things that I didn't get to focus on, but I still wanted to make sure that people got to hear interesting conversations. So that's there. So, I hope people still keep listening in. Season 2 

Then, starting in 2024, in mid-January, I will do season three, a different kind of season. 

So, this is what I'm going to do in Season 3. Everybody ready. Can you do a drum roll?

Are you Sure you told me to?

I'm sure. You'll remember, you'll remember once. I say OK here. It is all right.

That was a pathetic drum.

Our dog is like, what’s going on? Are you ready to go for a walk soon?

Oh, don't say that. Oh, No!

Anyway, season three is going to be this. I have 18,000 e-mail subscribers now. Woohoo. I was very excited about that. 15,000 have specifically told me they're from the nonprofit world. 

So they love hearing about, you know, what I have to say so that they can think about how to hone their pitch and all that kind of stuff. So, I've sent out an email to them. I was asking them.

Oh, you did tell me this. I want to be in on this. Oh.

No. So I've said, OK, nonprofits, what's your best? Worst experience with donors. Please dish, and you can. Tell me bad stuff. I have gotten some great stories from them.

Oh, I have one. I can't do it now.

Why not? Why?

Do not do one as a pre-prequel.

No, I mean.

OK, everyone. He has to listen to season 3.

It was so bad. Oh, it was.

OK, so this will Be the one. OK, so this is you guys, everybody in on this listening. This is the kind of response I've gotten for this Theme. 

So, this is essentially my theme for 2024, which will be the best and worst. So I've found I've gotten some great stories. Yeah.

I am the best, too. There are some good ones, too. You can interview me through my nonprofit.

I will probably. OK. Oh, see, you're getting. You're getting back on the podcast.

I'm getting back in, OK? I'm getting back in.

Yeah. And so, it will be really fun because we will talk about stories of people's best and worst experiences with funders. And then, I'm going to talk about solutions to those best and worst experiences. I'm going to interview some experts who may have experienced those things.

The same issue is that whatever this nonprofit is, it is dead. With that, I'm going. To have a whole bunch of. Themes linked to the best and worst. So, but that's going. To come from my listeners and friends. And you, honey, too.


So, I just. I feel like that's going to be fun. I've already gotten it, like I said. There are so many stories that many people want to tell me about the most challenging times they've had. 

Still, I will also bring in the best things because there are some great, positive stories about philanthropy and philanthropists working wonderfully with nonprofits and making a difference in the world. So that's what season three will be all about, so stay tuned.

Oh yeah, there's so much material, so much material. All right. All right. Well, I guess we have to go now. But till next time, everybody. Cheers. Let's do the little clink on the glass. There you go. I love you, too. Cheers. Everybody. Have a great day.

That's a whole season full of shouts. Oh, OK, fun. Cheer, my love.