Interview with WPI Alumna and TCF Trustee, Deb Pass Durham

Deb Pass Durham
Deb Pass Durham

Deb Pass Durham, Weaver Philanthropic Initiative ’99, Immediate Past Chairman of the Board of The Community Foundation, has largely dedicated her time, treasure, and talent to women, children, and families. She has served on the boards of Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Baptist Health System, and Hope Haven Children’s Clinic & Family Services and is a member of The Women’s Giving Alliance.

Caroline Brinton ’10 sat down with Deb to discuss Deb’s philanthropic endeavors, lessons learned about building community, and what is keeping her busy these days.

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Q: What do you do in your daily life?
A: I have worked in the staffing and recruiting world for most of my career. I left my business, ATS, eight years ago and am now consulting part-time. I strive (and sometimes fail) to balance my consulting, volunteer, and family endeavors. My daughter, Olivia, is in 2nd grade and my step-daughters, Hope and Madeline, are in their 20’s.

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Q: Currently, what issues are you putting your philanthropic resources toward?
A: I serve on the Board of several non-profit organizations. I tend to focus on helping organizations build their capacity and strengthen their governance. It is an area I truly enjoy and that my professional skills and personality lend themselves to. If we help strengthen the organization, then they can do more to fulfill their mission.

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Q: Do you have a philanthropic mission statement or personal motto? If so, would you mind sharing?
A: I don’t have a singular mission statement or personal motto. My personal mission tends to be very fluid and evolves as I move through different stages in my life.
I try not to “should” myself into philanthropy, and instead approach philanthropic involvement from a place of “want.” Do I want to give (time or financial resources) to this opportunity and do I think I am the one that can make a difference? As a rule, I try and take 24 hours before saying “yes” to any philanthropic request. The opportunity may be incredibly exciting, but it is important to first see where the new endeavor will fit, and what else must come off my plate.

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Q: What do you like most about living in Northeast Florida?
A: Northeast Florida is a large and diverse geographic area. There are endless opportunities to get involved in our community if you want to: environmental, beaches, rivers, neighborhoods, arts, children, education….

Q: What challenges concern you most about Northeast Florida?
A: My primary concern is that we have safe communities. And by that I mean a holistic view of safe. Not just a safe physical structure, but do you have access to healthcare, do you have access to education, whether it be at the pre-primary, trades school, college, or graduate level? Do you have access to emotional and spiritual support? It will take all of these things for our community to grow a strong workforce and, with that, strengthen our overall community.

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Q: What is a lesson you’ve learned about building a stronger community?
A: I’ve learned that it is hard work and it cannot all be done at once. It is critical to celebrate small victories and learning opportunities along the way. Partner with others that share your same passion or goals to help achieve the mission you are working on. We are much stronger in teams.

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Q: How have you engaged with your family in strengthening our community?
A: Both of my parents taught us to give back to your community in some way that works for you. My father, Orien Pass, was more traditional and gave to the Salvation Army in Clay County and was active in Rotary projects. My mom, Delores Kesler, initially engaged me in philanthropy because she was passionate about access to higher education. She instilled a sense that philanthropy, in any form, was an expectation. That personal philosophy, transferred to my business philosophy. It became part of our company’s annual employee review process and entrenched in our mission. It didn’t particularly matter to me where members of our team chose to engage in our communities, just that they were engaged. In my experience, I feel the person who is giving usually gets more out of the process than the person who is receiving.

I try to model a giving nature and concern for our community to my family by my day-to-day action, and through what they see and hear me working on. My daughter, Olivia, has been known to say I work at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, so I guess I am not doing so well at the work/life/balance thing! But I have found that just day-to-day life, the less formal actions have a greater impact on family than the formal, orchestrated big events.

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Q: Describe an opportunity where an organization effectively engaged with you.
A: The best way for any organization to engage me is to show me how my involvement can make a real difference. That involvement may be through a tough conversation, such as discussions on an organization’s long-term viability. It could also be that the organization needs help connecting people they can learn from or can work together to leverage their resources. I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and work hard, but I want to know my involvement and input is serving a strategic purpose.

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Q: In the last decade, what philanthropic investment have you made that you are most proud of?
A: I’m particularly proud of the work accomplished with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and on The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida’s Programs and Initiatives (P&I) Committee of the Board of Trustees. I joined the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees in 2003 and became Board Chair beginning in 2009. During that time, they were transitioning to new leadership. I had the opportunity to dig into what is involved in delivering good quality healthcare to children & families in our region. There has been much to focus on between community outreach and engagement, strengthening the Board with new members, and navigating through financial budget cuts by the State.

When I chaired TCF’s P&I Committee, I worked closely with Kathleen Shaw and a small group of committee members that delved deep to create a more efficient grants process. It was a complete overhaul, changing from an “old-school” grants process to a more streamlined, updated approach. It made a huge difference for grantees and the Trustees and is still the process the Committee follows.

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Q: How do you decide when your philanthropic investments have been successful?
A: I think an investment is successful if we learned something from what we did. Some of the most successful outcomes are in projects that don’t turn out like we expected. We dig in and learn from the experience. Did we not do enough research before we started? Did we not have clear expectations? Clear accountability? And then how can we use this going forward?

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Q: You are an alumna of the first Weaver Philanthropic Initiative class and recently welcomed another alumnus, Ryan Schwartz, into the role of Chairman of the Board of Trustees at TCF. Do you have any observations about WPI’s role in philanthropic leadership?
A: There is a common experience and understanding of engaging in open and honest feedback with one another that WPI Alumni can tap into. We share an understanding of the history, and even terminology, that today’s philanthropy is built upon. For example, we understand the difference between “charity” and “philanthropy.” Plus, we understand that philanthropy is personal and looks different to each person and that is a good thing.