In 2018, the national venture philanthropy organization New Profit brought together pairs of donors and social entrepreneurs from their community for candid conversations on the future of social problem-solving. These “unlikely duos” were given thought-provoking questions to respond to and discuss on the spot, and we were able to see where a conversation can go when it’s centered on getting to know another person and her or his perspective, rather than the technical aspects of change-making. Relationships are fundamental to problem-solving, and these duos show us the power of two people from different backgrounds sharing insights and ideas on forward-leaning solutions.

In Episode Three of this video series, philanthropist Roch Hillenbrand (Founder, Stony Brook Investments) and social entrepreneur Aaron Walker (Founder and CEO, Camelback Ventures) talk about supporting entrepreneurs from diverse communities.

Giving Compass spoke with Hillenbrand about his path to philanthropy, how New Profit has helped make him a better donor and advice he’d give other philanthropists.

Roch Hillenbrand’s philanthropy was born from a vivid memory of his school days.

“[There were] grade school and high school friends of mine who were told by a teacher that they were stupid when I knew they weren’t,” Hillenbrand said. “They lost confidence.”

And, in some cases, these friends never reached their full potential for success. Hillenbrand went on to work in the financial sector, holding executive positions at Goldman Sachs, where he encountered out-of-the-box thinkers. It led to a realization:

Roch Hillenbrand | Unlikely Duos“[My colleagues] found a way to capitalize on the way they thought differently and learned differently instead of being hindered by it,” he said.

Upon retiring from Goldman Sachs, Hillenbrand turned to philanthropy, seeking out education organizations, such as All Kinds of Minds, a nonprofit that builds teachers’ expertise about how students learn.

He’s also involved with Peer Forward (formerly College Summit) which harnesses peer influence to help more students go to and finish college.

New Profit: Part of a Philanthropist’s Toolkit

As an individual donor, Hillenbrand encountered a common obstacle in philanthropy: Finding the right organizations to support. He often relied on friends to make recommendations. It was his partnership with New Profit that opened door to “the universe of what’s out there.”

While funders may know what causes they want to support, organizations like New Profit, which have deep background and experience, can help “hone your interests,” Hillenbrand said.

New Profit’s venture philanthropy model also allows Hillenbrand to be involved with organizations beyond just writing a check. He serves as an advisor to New Profit in its K-12 education work, including helping to select and support the seven organizations in its Personalized Learning Initiative and becoming the Board Chair of one of the selected organizations, PowerMyLearning.

“The New Profit model is … not just about giving grants and money to organizations to help them grow,” Hillenbrand said. “It’s more important in my mind to [partner with them on] strategic support to help them think through business planning, strategy, board development.”

This support has proven to help younger organizations, in particular, scale more quickly. This is just one takeaway from Hillenbrand’s philanthropic journey. He shared other insights with Giving Compass.

Find a community. Identify a group of funders that gives you a forum to talk about what you’re interested in, what successes you’ve had and what mistakes you’ve made. “There’s nothing like hand-holding among your peer-group to share experiences both good and bad to have better outcomes for everybody.”

Put aside preconceived notions. Be flexible in your expectations. “In [the] business world, you can demand things happen by decree overnight. It doesn’t work that way with philanthropy.”

Get beneficiaries involved. Understand that your perspective is only one in the crowd. “The more opinions and inputs you have from individuals from different backgrounds, the better decisions you ultimately make.”