Interview with WPI Alumnus, Ryan Schwartz

Ryan Schwartz ‘08, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Community Foundation, is well-known to our WPI Alumni. Aside from his role as COO of US Assure, he has been a TCF Trustee since 2011 and previously served as Chair of the Board at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Ronald McDonald House Charities Jacksonville, and the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.

As a very public face of philanthropy in Northeast Florida, Ryan has been asked to share his philanthropic views on more than a few occasions. This month, Ryan gave Caroline Brinton ‘10 the opportunity to gain new insights on his philanthropic journey and what is on the horizon in 2019. We trust that you will learn something new!

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Q: How do you juggle the demanding expectations of what are arguably two full time jobs in your positions of COO of US Assure and a major philanthropic leader in Northeast Florida? Have you found that these roles enhance one another and, if so, how?

A: I always tell myself, if I am not fully dedicated to my profession, there’s no way it will be possible for me to properly serve any philanthropic organization. That being said, I have had the great fortune of working for a company and family that values civic engagement and has allowed it to become a part of my job. And yes, there are countless examples of things I have learned from my community involvement that have made me a better business person. Nonprofits, by their nature, are so very fragile and it has been a real privilege to work side by side with the professional and lay leaders who dedicate their time to this body of work.

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Q: You’ve witnessed many exciting milestones at TCF since joining the Board in 2011 and participating in the 2008 WPI Class. What TCF initiatives are you most excited about in 2019?

A: Our Neighborhoods work continues to crystalize more and more since we announced this strategic focus in 2017. I have loved seeing the passion and interest my fellow trustees have on this topic. With the assistance of the amazing staff of TCF, we have been able to learn about the unique issues facing so many parts of our community. To date, we’ve made micro investments, so to speak. I think we are on the verge of being able to do deeper and more impactful work.

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Q: Outside of TCF, what are you paying close attention to within the rest of the philanthropic sector in Northeast Florida?

A:  I care deeply about the strength of the sector’s professional leaders. We’ve experienced great turnover in the past five years and I do not see that changing any time soon. I think it is incumbent of board members to be extremely diligent and vigorous in recruitment and retention of nonprofit leaders. These are positions we cannot afford to get wrong. It makes me happy to see so many board members and staffers taking advantage of the programs the Nonprofit Center has developed to address these critical issues.

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Q: What do you see as innovative in the philanthropic world?

A: People want to do pooled grantmaking now more than ever. We have done it through our field of interest funds for a long time and more recently, through initiatives like the Beaches Community Fund. I foresee a movement where people want to “buy shares” in a specific grantmaking program or group of investments and spread their giving across a few areas. Our staff at TCF is learning more and more about programmatic related investments and venture philanthropy so they can be prepared to support our donors interested in this type of giving.

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Q: You’re in the business of risk management. What kind of due diligence do you conduct before supporting an organization? Any advice for what experienced donors should be doing but aren’t?

A: I look at the CEO and the board. It doesn’t matter if I know them or not, but how long they’ve been involved, the diversity of their experiences, etc. If you don’t have the right people in charge, the mission really doesn’t even matter.

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Q: What are some of the traits and abilities you’ve developed as a result of your giving?

A: My eyes have been opened because of the passion of so many other donors. Donors who have been so seriously committed to helping an organization that they are willing to make that extraordinary leap and do the dreaded “ask.” I respect any volunteer who is that passionate and have received no greater satisfaction than when I have taken on that great responsibility.

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Q: How would a family member describe your giving?

A: Scattered. I support a lot of causes for a lot of different reasons. That said, I have gotten to the point where I’m willing to say “no” when I don’t believe in the organization. It’s probably just as important of a decision as saying “yes.”

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Q: You always speak so graciously about the opportunities others have connected you to throughout your endeavors. Which experiences in your life would you like to make available to others?

A: On the nonprofit front, I’ve been involved in a number of nonprofit leadership transitions. While I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, when I see others in those positions I typically reach out to share my experiences and offer to be available for consultation.

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Q: How has a peer network served as a resource for your giving?

A: My WPI class (2008 – wow!) was my entrée to collective giving and I enjoyed working with them on infant mortality – something I never would have known about otherwise. Since then, I have learned so much from my fellow trustees. They are each full of wisdom, passion and the most intelligent and caring people I have met. They inspire me to no end.

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Q: What is unique about the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative?

A: I used to worry about there not being enough future philanthropists to meet the demands of the sector. WPI has put me to ease on that front. The amount of interest we have in the program, the diversity of its participants, and the fact that nearly all WPI alums stay connected and keep giving thrills me. I am so proud of this program and hope we have a perpetual waiting list!