Giving Conversations: Q&A Interview with Susan Wolf Ditkoff of The Bridgespan Group

Online sites like Strategic Philanthropy’s Give Confidently, and Morgan Stanley’s Perspectives in Philanthropy tap into something we at the Center have long known: stories from peers can be incredibly effective in helping donors understand their own philanthropic paths. I recently had a conversation with Susan Wolf Ditkoff, partner and co-head of the Philanthropy Practice at Bridgespan, to discuss an exciting new video project “Conversations with Remarkable Givers,” which provides an inside look at philanthropists’ journeys.

Autumn: Could you tell us about this latest project?

Our latest project, which we launched on Giving Tuesday, is a series of video interviews entitled “Conversations with Remarkable Givers.” Conversations is a collection of one to three-minute video clips drawn from over 50 original and private interviews with philanthropists and foundation leaders such as Melinda Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Pierre Omidyar (eBay/Omidyar Network), John and Doris Fisher (KIPP), Charles Bronfman (Andrea and Bronfman Philanthropies), and Connie Duckworth (ARZU Inc./Goldman Sachs). Though our initial launch features about 400 clips, we will ultimately have a library of over 1,000 videos. Our interviewees discuss important components of philanthropy such as how they involve family and choose which causes to support, and how they work with grantees and measure results. The conversations cover a range of lessons learned, personal turning points, and reflective guidance on topics and causes such as education, health, and measuring success.

Autumn: How does this fit into Bridgespan’s other work?

Susan: An important part of Bridgespan’s mission is providing free knowledge resources on our websites: and Our GiveSmart initiative has four components designed to educate and inspire philanthropists—a book, a free website with toolkits, FAQs, and case studies, ongoing original research, and outstanding curated content from other sources. In fact, we are delighted to feature some of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy’s work in our Content Library.

Autumn: How can visitors to the site navigate through all of these interviews and how could they use the material?

Susan: Each video clip is tagged in multiple ways. First, you can search collection by any of the 64 donor’s names. You can also search by a particular theme, such as Pursuing Success or Giving More than Money. Finally, you can search by a particular cause, such as Education, Health, or Local Philanthropy. Each cause and theme has multiple sub-categories (for example, we separate disease research from public health within Health, and early education from post-secondary within Education) and you can easily navigate all of the clips tagged in those sub-categories as well. These videos can be easily shared and linked on other websites—for example, your Center could add them as a supplement to one of your issue areas in global public health or domestic education.

Autumn: Are there any specific insights or patterns you noticed while putting together this resource that donors and nonprofit leaders might find helpful?

Susan: It’s impossible to summarize the diversity of thought reflected in these 1,000+ clips. But upon reflection at least three important patterns emerged. First, our interviewees stress the importance of starting philanthropy early in life and being actively engaged, often using resources gained from their business lives and using innovative approaches such for-profit-nonprofits blended philanthropy models. Second, adaptive strategies are necessary to solve society’s problems. Even philanthropy motivated by personal experiences (e.g., disease research) is increasingly strategic in its approach. Finally, despite the difficulty posed by collaboration, our interviewees found many reasons to collaborate. For example, collaboration in philanthropy brings more money to underfunded causes and can enable access to networks and specialized skills no one funder may have in-house.

Autumn: Are there ways folks are already using the videos?

Susan:In our short pre-launch period this fall, we’ve already used these clips at small gatherings as conversation starters among fellow donors as well as “How-To” guidance for others. Recently at the Association of Small Foundations conference, we showed three videos from different donors on how they approach collaborations; the videos really engaged the audience in a new way and sparked different conversations than the typical panel/Q&A format would have allowed. Finally, I’d just like to add that a number of our interviewees said that they wished they’d had a resource like this to help avoid some of the mistakes they made early on in their philanthropy. We hope that this resource accomplishes its goal of educating and inspiring philanthropists to get better results over time from their giving, and we look forward to collaborating with the Center for High Impact Philanthropy towards that goal.