Annual Meeting Speaker Highlight: Paul Shoemaker


Before the Annual Meeting revs up for attendees online and in Asheville, foundation CEOs will have the chance to connect with one another through the CEO Forum preconference on Wednesday morning.

The CEO Forum – both the Annual Meeting offering and the annual spring event – has long focused on big topics facing philanthropic executives: strategy, leadership, vision and change. Each of these are important to this year’s CEO Forum facilitator, Paul Shoemaker.

“My job is to be a messenger and to help people understand that they can utilize their tools and talents to be the most impactful advocate they can be for the cause they care most about,” Shoemaker said in an interview promoting one of his books, Can’t Not Do. “I want to help people to recognize their power to create social good.”

Shoemaker is notable for having a particular interest in the work of philanthropy, a subject he’s written about in publications like Stanford Social Innovation Review. He has called on the sector to fundamentally change its underlying practices in order to achieve the most good.

“We have good materials (committed people, financial capital, promising solutions) but are sometimes using outdated practices that are often more grounded in an inside-out, funder-centric point of view than the external realities of the grantees, programs, and systems we seek to change,” he wrote. “We need to become far more outside in, driven by external realities and signals.”

One change that’s needed, Shoemaker writes, is greater funding for general operating support – an idea that many have advocated, but still faces resistance. He goes further, however, describing funding restricted to specific programs as “quite damaging.”

“We are using a practice that weakens the entire structure of grantees we hope to build,” Shoemaker wrote. “If we want to make sure that funds go toward an intended social outcome, we must make an agreement on the mutual outcome and let grantees decide how to best spend the funds (the means) to achieve that goal (the end).”

While Shoemaker has called on the sector to change the way it supports nonprofits financially, he also believes that other forms of philanthropic capital are just as important – if not more.

“There are so many resources that we have beyond finances, and in order to make money effective, we have to use them,” he writes. “Money absolutely matters, but anyone who says that money alone will solve the world’s problems is wrong – every aspect of change has a human face.”

Shoemaker is the founding president of Social Venture Partners International, a global network of thousands of social innovators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and business leaders supporting social change agents in over 40 cities and eight countries.

Along with Can’t Not Do, he is also the author of Taking Charge of Change, which shares stories of “Rebuilders” who are tackling big problems in their work.

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