Larry Gilson has spent his career creating lasting impact. Gilson as held the post of Associate Assistant to President Jimmy Carter (as a 29 year old), was an energy entrepreneur, an energy investor, led a private equity firm, kept a major public transportation company afloat, and now when most people with full and successful careers think of retirement he is continuing to move the needle in the giving space.
Gilson currently runs (and personally funds) Focusing Philanthropy, a 501-C3 company that gives philanthropists the knowledge and confidence to invest with impact, which not only changes the lives of the recipients but also increases donor satisfaction and energies the non-profit ecosystem. Making philanthropy more effective, non-profits more accountable, and donors more committed and fulfilled.
Gilson spoke to a group of students, staff, faculty, and community members at a recent The Creative Mind and Leadership Lecture hosted by the Keller Center. A regular visitor to Derek Lidow’s EGR 497 Entrepreneurial Leadership course, Gilson came to campus to speak with Lidow’s class, deliver his talk, Donor Behavior and Non-Profit Response, and participate in an informal roundtable discussion with graduate students. “Larry brings a distinctive perspective to the students in my course. Someone who has been a leader across a wide spectrum of areas; government, big business, startups, finance, and philanthropy who can also articulate the connections and impact opportunities in those areas is extremely unique. I’m very fortunate to have Larry visit my class each year to enhance their academic study with real-world examples of leadership, impact, and purpose” remarked Lidow.
Most people give to charities they have personal connections to; religious organizations, colleges, healthcare institutions, the local community non-profits they see in their neighborhoods, or large international disaster relief agencies. As a country, we are incredibly generous but lack the knowledge or even the know-how on vetting organization outside of our vision. Gilson and his team cull through the 1.5 million registered non-profits around the world to gather those that can not only deliver on their mission, but engage donors in a way that makes them feel that “because I gave X amount of money, X wonderful thing has happened.” In the end, to create sustainable, effective giving we have to have donors who feel they make a difference and Gilson can help philanthropists increase the impact of their giving.
“Larry Gilson’s work, though seemingly complicated and specialized, is based on a rather simple mission that concerns all of us: raising the bar for non-profits and how they define social impact. His due diligence in vetting the organization he recommends his investors fund, are clearly aligned with Focusing Philanthropy’s mission to invest in non-profits that are credible, capable, and effective. This methodology is in an effort to increases the pressure for nonprofits to deliver clear results and rethink their approaches. I feel it’s high time all of us aspiring social entrepreneurs understand that non-profits need to have equal rigor and structure as companies in the for profit sector, because a dream and a dime does not cut it anymore. I’m glad there are people like Larry out there keeping the field accountable and pushing us to be better.” -Anthropology major Dimitris Ntaras ’21 who is developing a water purification system in the Keller Center eLab.