Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of Arabella Advisors, Joins Denver Frederick - Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of Arabella Advisors, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer WNYM in New York City.


Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of Arabella Advisors

Denver: Observers of the philanthropic ecosystem generally focus on the donors and the work of the recipient nonprofit organizations. But another vital force are the advisors, those intermediaries who help direct and guide significant dollars to causes and organizations that have the greatest impact. 

Now, some of these firms focus on a particular area such as impact investing, while others provide a whole suite of support services including governance, advocacy, and grants management. Arabella Advisors would be one of the full-service firms, and it’s a pleasure to have with us tonight their Chief Executive Officer, Sampriti Ganguli

Good evening, Sampriti, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Sampriti: Good evening, Denver. It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me. 

W e essentially help philanthropists and investors take their idea and turn it into impact.

Denver: Eric Kessler, who, of course, founded Arabella, was on the show a number of years ago, and I recall him saying that he was trying to provide the widest range of services possible under one roof. There are a lot more services now than when he first had that thought. So just give us an idea, a sense, of what Arabella Advisors does. 

Sampriti: Denver, we essentially help philanthropists and investors take their idea and turn it into impact. So, essentially, we provide a full suite of services – everything from a strategy to implementation. We are the de facto grant maker for a lot of organizations, all the way through evaluation, asking the fundamental question of: Did my dollars make an impact? Did they make a difference? Arabella is one of the few places where you get all of those services under one roof. 

Denver: Maybe some listeners are asking: Well, how hard can it be to give money away? But, of course, I remember Warren Buffet saying that it was a lot easier for him to make his money than to give his money away. Why is it so hard to give away money to charity? 

Sampriti: It’s hard for three reasons. At a tactical level, there’s actually a lot of laws and regulations and compliance around giving, and not all donors essentially know that. I think it’s hard at a philosophical level, being able to separate out your heart – what compels you to give emotionally – from the rational decision to give is actually two very different muscles that individuals are flexing. And the third is:  it’s really hard to prioritize depending on one’s perspective. There are a lot of urgent problems that we need to solve, many of which have a very long-time horizon on the solution set, and so coming up with a prioritized list can actually be very challenging. 

I’ll add a nuance, which is, if you are a family, or you come from family wealth, there is the added dimension of family dynamics that are challenging to wrestle with, and that’s often why people turn to a philanthropic advisor to help guide them through that journey.

Denver: What are you seeing in terms of the generational differences? How do you bridge those differences when you’re dealing with such a family? 

Sampriti: We’re seeing three things. One is oftentimes, the people who are coming into wealth today – now in their 30s and 40s – have very different policy perspectives than their grandparents. And as such, they are trying to maintain the family legacy and good name, while also trying to shift resources to the problems that are urgent today, that may not be the same problems that their grandparents looked at. 

The second thing that we’re seeing is:  gender. Many more women inheriting wealth and earning wealth… and maybe having a different perspective on who they want to give to and why they want to give, so definitely a greater focus on gender, women in their giving. 

And the last thing that we are seeing is a new generation. So if we think about millennials in the workforce, millennials in philanthropy don’t want to go it alone necessarily. They are more willing to work with their peers; they want to network, and they want to be more deliberate in terms of their giving. They’re starting their giving journey at the age of 20 or 30, and they’re saying, “What do I want my impact to be over a 50-year horizon?” That’s very different than their grandparents, who for the most part earned their wealth and then became philanthropists in their retirement.

Denver: And as you suggest there, social media with these young people is that when they’re thinking about a cause they want to support, the first thing they think about is starting a movement or bringing all their buddies along and getting the word out. 

Sampriti: Yes. Since you’ve been in this space, Denver, you know the old philanthropy adage of the three T’s: time, talent, and treasure. And I increasingly see today the three V’s: voice, values, and vision. The bar has been raised a little bit if you’re going to be a strategic donor. And so, the ones with whom we work are being very intentional about thinking of their philanthropic strategy as part of a more holistic strategy around social change, around movement building, if you will.

Denver: And another generational difference that I can cite is that when I started in this field a long time ago, it was pretty much grants and foundations and donors. Now, it’s impact investing, it’s LLCs like Emerson Collective, and it just continues to evolve. So speak about the different vehicles and partnerships you’re seeing coming together to get things done.

Sampriti: I think grant making is a part of a strategy, and today, donors are using a platform of vehicles. You talked about impact investing via an LLC, sometimes we see that through a family office, if you will, the corpus of a family office. 

The other vehicle that we see increasingly is a donor-advised fund. So, it is no longer the case that a family foundation or a private foundation is the only mechanism for giving. For some donors, it may never be a mechanism for their giving. Donor-advised funds are simply easier to use, and that is also an additional platform that we see.

On the LLC front, what I would say is: people are thinking about social enterprises and nonprofits interchangeably, and on the nonprofit side, nonprofits are thinking about earned revenue models. So those traditional silos between grantee and grantor are really blurring, and you’re seeing an explosion, a blossoming of a lot of these platforms. 

Now, from my perspective, what I would say is: these platforms are really solving for an end – I don’t want to say an end run – but they’re a work-around to the tax regime. Structurally, it might be worthwhile to think differently about the tax regime, but nonetheless, these platforms are an evolution of some of the constraints that have been put on these respective platforms, if you will, or respective charitable vehicles.

Sampriti Ganguli and Denver Frederick inside the studio

…big builds are really about having the right infrastructure to carry out a vision of a philanthropist, and we believe that that is as important as the big idea that they’re bringing to bear. 

Denver: In the philanthropy world, everyone talks about “big bets.” You don’t do that so much. You talk about “big builds.” What’s the difference? 

Sampriti: My perspective is that the field of philanthropy has no shortage of good ideas. So it’s long ideas, but short execution capacity, and that’s really what big builds are.

So, as donors talk about increasingly $100 million, $200 million types of philanthropic initiatives, what is the infrastructure that is necessary to get that done? You asked me earlier why it’s hard to give money. Part of it is nonprofits don’t have the wherewithal to very quickly receive such large sums of money. They don’t have the capacity to be able to put that to good work. They’ve got a great vision, but when the rubber meets the road, they don’t have enough people; they don’t have enough bodies to execute on that. 

So, big builds are really about having the right infrastructure to carry out a vision of a philanthropist, and we believe that that is as important as the big idea that they’re bringing to bear. 

Denver: You manage a suite of independent nonprofit organizations that provide fiscal sponsorship and project incubation to this wide range of charitable initiatives. So I want you to unpack that a little bit, Sampriti, starting with: what is fiscal sponsorship and how does this arrangement work?

Sampriti: Fiscal sponsorship is a legal term that essentially allows for a public charity to house multiple nonprofits within its borders, if you will. These “fiscally sponsored projects” as we call them have independent advisory boards; they have independent governance and budgetary structures, but they benefit from the 501(c)(3) status, which, by the way, can take up to 18 months to get, and they benefit from a shared back-office, or if you will, shared operating infrastructure. And if you talk to a nonprofit leader, the majority of them are social change agents, and they want to spend their time on the programmatic mission. They don’t want to worry about how checks get written. They don’t want to worry about ticking and tacking on all the grant agreements.

Denver: No compliance. Have somebody else do that, please. 

Sampriti: And so, essentially, a fiscal sponsor provides, if you will, an opportunity to get more efficient on those things that don’t bring joy to the social change agent, while ensuring that they are compliant with all of the different regulations and norms across all 50 states. So, that’s essentially what we provide. The Tides Foundation also has that. There are many, many fiscal sponsors that have sprung up in part because this is such a need in the nonprofit community. 

Denver: And it always sounds a little bit like Amazon to me, which is simplifying the process and making it easy for the consumer, or in this particular case, the donor, and getting a lot of that stuff completely out of the way.

Sampriti: I think that’s part of it. I think part of it is – we talked about big bets. The philanthropic community is increasingly talking about scale, right? How do we scale our solutions? 

Denver: Really hard to do.

Sampriti: It’s hard to do, especially if it’s one donor and one idea. So, to a certain extent, this operating infrastructure provides scale, at least at the operating level, if not always at the programmatic level, that I think is a real need in today’s world of philanthropy. 

Denver: You guys are involved in a bunch of issues. We don’t have time to go through them all, but I want to talk about a couple of them. 

One that you’re really well known for, even outside of the philanthropic community, is your good food practice. And that’s probably because our food system is at the root of so many of our problems, and it really is pretty badly broken. What are some of these challenges? 

Sampriti: Food is an exciting place for a couple of reasons: one, it’s a crossover between grant making and impact investing, so you can actually invest in a lot of good food ventures. The second is it’s pretty place-based. So to a certain extent, if you want good food, it tends to be proximate to you; it tends to be close. And that’s what philanthropy at its heart is – it’s often pretty proximate. 

So, three challenges in food. One is demand – how do we make sure that we increase the demand for healthy food? Two is supply – how do we get good food to where it needs to be? And three is – what policy changes do we need to make in order to make good food more accessible? The US Department of Agriculture has already done that through making, for example, farmer’s markets very accessible, but there is more work to be done in the area of child nutrition, for example, and others.

And so, Arabella really provides support in all three of those areas. We help bring together investors who collectively invest in early stage food ventures that have a social purpose that is associated with that. We help donors think about the advocacy lovers that stitch together a lot of different legislation, both at the state level and at the national level. And then we think about how to increase the supply, especially in the Heartland, of good, sustainable food and an economic model that works for them. 

Denver: My sense would be the demand is pretty well spoken for right now. Boy, I see such demand for healthy food, and the younger you get, the greater the demand, but it is across every single demographic. The other two were probably a bit more challenging. 

Let’s get to this one about the capital flows though, and the impact investing you were talking about. Give us an idea of the kind of things that are being done where you’re working with them to direct this capital to some of these interesting food startups. 

Sampriti: I think there are some common ones that everyone knows– things like ugly produce, for example, where there’s misshapen vegetables and fruits, and they don’t make it into the grocery store, but they’re healthy; they’re nutritious. That’s a pretty common one. 

Denver: I heard a guy talk the other day– heirloom vegetables and fruits. 

Sampriti: That’s right. Heirloom vegetables and fruits, beans, lots of different kinds of alternatives. The things that we’re seeing – plant-based alternative to meat. A cool opportunity we looked at was tomato-based alternatives to tuna. We had a client who was very interested in sustainable seafood – how do you make sure that you protect the apex predator? That’s the tuna. There are now companies that are thinking about tomato that essentially tastes like tuna, mimics that taste and consistency.

Denver: I live on tuna. Have you tried this? 

Sampriti: I know. I have. It actually tastes pretty good. 

Denver: Does it really?

Sampriti: Yes. I’ll tell you another alternative, which was neat. This was a company that had a technology that was essentially a bitter blocker. It blocked bitterness, and as such, it reduces the need to put added sugars into food. This has not just health-related outcomes, but it has alternatives to the cultural perception of what good food actually is. 

And so, we look for a lot of these companies that cross the spectrum of equity – so equitable access, health, agriculture, and seafood, and waters. Food is also very interesting because it’s cross-sectional or intersectional, and helps us think differently about impact outcomes. 

Denver: Yes, it’s so interesting. 

Another piece of work that you do and work with your clients on is the intersection of housing and health. Now, what’s going on there? 

Sampriti: There’s another place where I would say there’s a lot of innovative solutions. Health and housing are highly correlated, meaning if you don’t have secure housing, your health outcomes are diminished, or vice versa. If you have reduced health outcomes, it’s because you often don’t have secure housing.

So we are beginning to see very large housing providers, or interested in housing like Fannie Mae, reach out to large hospital communities and say, “What can we do together? What are some shared solutions?”

I’ll give you a great example that I heard about recently. It was a developer who was thinking about affordable housing units that placed grandparents alongside foster kids who are aging out of foster care – so 18-year-olds – with those that were looking to downsize their homes and bringing together two different generations, generations that are often displaced, to create a nurturing environment of care and support. This was more on the social and emotional health rather than physical health, but those are some of those intersections that we’re seeing and the creative end of solving social problems that are highly interconnected. 

Denver: Generations United.

Sampriti: Generations United. 

Denver: We’re also beginning to see philanthropy play a big, big role in prison reform efforts. And this is one where you do get that bipartisan support, perhaps for different motives and different reasons, but who cares? It’s there. What impact has philanthropy had on this issue, and where do you see that going? 

Sampriti: I would say this is an area where we’ve seen a lot of new money come into, if you will, come into use, even in the last six months since there was a pretty significant legislation passed in the Senate around prison reform.

Three interesting areas. One is a movement around prison divestment. I would say that the child separation has really accelerated the awareness around private prisons and the profiteering associated with that. So, we are seeing more and more institutions divest away from private prisons as part of their investment portfolio and their investment strategy, and we’re seeing banks essentially saying, “We are not going to fund private prison building.” That’s one aspect of it. 

The second is: we are seeing some technology donors saying, “How do we erase, using technology, a criminal record so that your background can be expunged without you having to go through all of the hoops associated with that?”

And then the third movement that we’re seeing is essentially some advocacy-related matters that only individual donors can participate in, that institutional foundations can’t, but essentially saying, “How do we re-enfranchise returning citizens?” So how do we give them back the ballot, if you will.? And the Florida Initiative restored the rights for 1.4 million returning citizens was one of those. 

So, what I would say is: those individuals that are really interested in prison reform are thinking very holistically about what it takes to have returning citizens. And I don’t mean to be cynical. I do think this is a bipartisan issue, but I also think it is a very real function of an economy that is at full employment where you essentially say, “Look. There is an entire part of our workforce that is underemployed or unemployed. How do we make sure that that’s a great pathway?” 

One of the amazing companies, B Corps, that I really look at – I don’t know if you’re familiar with them – Greyston Bakery.

Denver:  Yes. They’ve been on the show. 

Sampriti: They have an open hiring process, and they have a large portion of returning citizens. They really are a model of the kindness that you can exhibit to returning citizens and really make them part of our broader economy. So we see, if you will, the gamut of philanthropic initiatives associated. It’s one of those cultural norms that has changed very rapidly, just as the LGBTQ movement has also changed, where I think there is a different cultural undertone that is driving a lot of this philanthropic capital.

Denver: Greyston is incredible. You walk into their office, and you put your name down. And when a spot opens up, they take it in order – it’s like a deli counter in some ways, or a bakery maybe – and everybody gets a job without a question, and they save a fortune on recruitment. 

Sampriti: Absolutely. They also get very high retention rates as a result of that. And so, kind of end to end, if you will, there’s a huge value. And I will just say, as someone who is an employer, many of the laws and regulations in place really make it hard for someone who has a criminal background to be employed, in addition to the cultural norm. So, I admire the fact that they are bucking that trend.

Denver: Absolutely. And people should remember that next time they have Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream because they’re probably… the chocolate in that came from Greyston Bakery.

Let’s turn our attention to the field of philanthropy for a moment. Some of the core practices that we go about may unwittingly be leading funders to perpetuate the inequities that they’re trying to eliminate. Now, do you see this implicit bias, and if so, what can be done to address it? 

Sampriti: I think there’s a very real conversation around implicit bias in philanthropy for good reasons. One is, we are seeing a high concentration of wealth in the 1% of the 1%, and I think there’s a very natural and real question around the power that those individuals have with their very large gifts and grants. And so, I think the optics of “How large is my grant? What does that do to the power dynamic with my grantee organization?” is an important conversation to have, so that donors don’t unwittingly exercise greater voice and influence than they may wish to have.

I think the second is “How do we do our grant making?” So, for example, we see donors that say, “I want to get money out to frontline grassroots organizations. But I have a due diligence process that requires three years of audited financials, and you have to fill out my grant report in English, when in fact, we’re trying to advance causes led by Latino communities,” as an example. So, there’s some very stylized processes that need to change in order for us to get rid of this implicit bias. 

I think the last thing I would say is representation. I walk into a room, and when I hear about people saying, “How do we affect communities of color?” and there’s not a single person of color in the room, that’s like check number one to say, “Maybe we’ve got a bigger problem here.”

The interesting part of philanthropy is it’s a pretty clubby field. The bad part of philanthropy is it’s a really clubby field. So I always encourage our donors to say, “How do you look beyond your networks? How do you get comfortable going into rooms where you’re not the representative of everyone else there to actually have that conversation?” I’ve really admired Jeff Raikes from afar, who I think is having very, very honest conversations about that. So I am cautiously optimistic that the conversations are being had. But it’s a field that’s a little slow to change. There’s not an urgency. And so, it will take some time, I think, to make those changes.

Just one other side note, like many fields, there is a generational transfer in the executives that are managing large foundations. And I am seeing those changes to a certain extent based on who’s coming into the foundation today. 

Denver: And I think sometimes, donors are too worried about making a mistake. So often, with some of these newer startup organizations that are really on the ground, some of them may be a little sketchy, but 99% of them are not, and they’re afraid how this is going to come back to them. So they go to the tried and true, and that’s why we stay within this narrow band and really don’t get the expansive problem solving that the sector so badly needs.

Sampriti: And I will often talk to a donor, especially if they’ve come from a business background to say, “You have to think about your grant making from a portfolio strategy.” You’re absolutely right. The reputational risk is so great, and also it is hard to recover sometimes in the grantee community to build that type of trust. So I think there are good reasons for the reputational risk that donors are being thoughtful about. 

Denver: How do you see the role of technology changing philanthropy in the next decade–the possibilities that it holds, but also the new things we need to be mindful of? 

Sampriti: I often think of philanthropy as the sector that technology has left behind. 

Denver: Well, you think about it exactly the way I do. 

Sampriti: And I think that will change, quite frankly, as more tech donors make their philanthropy known… so simply by that fact. I think technology has the great promise to bring more rigor into evaluating impact. I think it also has the ability to change access. 

That said, there’s no app for philanthropy. And so, I think the real delimiters are that technology is, can be invasive. It really can come in the way of the individual, and to a certain extent, philanthropy is very individualistic. I also think this sector does not think about cyber risks in the way that they should and could. There’s a lot of wealth in this sector and there’s a lot of opportunity. So I think there are some opportunities to really beef up the cyberinfrastructure across the philanthropic and nonprofit community writ large, as opposed to them going it alone. 

Denver: Well, just read the Save the Children’s stories and you’ll think…

And also, I would say that the sector doesn’t, from my point of view, think enough about risk. When I look at donors and a foundation giving to a nonprofit organization, there’s never a discussion about “this might not work.” It’s like…it’s a four-letter word… risk, so we just assume everything is going to be fine. You would never do that in the for-profit world. 

Sampriti: I think that’s completely right. I also don’t think that the sector does enough in the area of scenario planning related to risk. Outcome A could happen, but also outcome B and C. And ironically, philanthropy is supposed to have the longest horizon to solve problems, but their grant making is either one year or three years, so their planning horizon and their vision horizon are often mismatched. 

Denver: I see a lack of alignment.

Sampriti: I see an opportunity to think a little bit more about building scenario planning and risk mitigation into grant-making strategies. 

Denver: Yes. Let’s talk about advocacy. $60 billion is given to foundations, maybe 4% of that goes towards advocacy work, but advocacy works. We have to look at Apartheid in South Africa or LGBTQ. What do you advise your clients regarding advocacy, and where have you seen it to be effective? 

Sampriti: I do acknowledge that there are limitations to what an institutional foundation can do, based on laws and regulations around advocacy. However, individual donors don’t have those limitations. I don’t think you can talk about system change without a point-of-view on advocacy. So, we advise donors to fund advocacy organizations; that is something they are able to do. And we do advise them to, if they have the means, to actually participate in direct advocacy measures for system-level change. I think advocacy is critical, not just for policy outcomes, but frankly to change cultural norms. And that is one of those, I would say, safer areas for an advocate in which to invest, which is: What are education and awareness programs that help to change cultural narratives to see the social change we want to sustain over the long run?

We have a culture of learning, and the people that we’d like to learn the most from are inside the organization, our employees; and secondly, outside the organization, our clients. We really try to put a lot of thought and care into what they share with us. 

Denver: I had the great pleasure to come to your offices, Sampriti, and speak to members of your staff about the corporate culture there, and I went away with two very distinct impressions. 

Let’s talk about the first, which is you have a culture of learning. Speak about the organization’s commitment to learning and why you believe it’s so important.

Sampriti: We have a culture of learning, and the people that we’d like to learn the most from are inside the organization, our employees; and secondly, outside the organization, our clients. We really try to put a lot of thought and care into what they share with us. 

Our staff share very direct feedback with us every year. I will share as a CEO, it’s really hard to read some of those findings, but I always look for that glimmer of learning within that, beyond the aggravation that employees have. We are fortunate from my perspective, to have a millennial workforce, and they are pushing us as leaders to think differently about the work we do, why we do the work we do, how we do the work we do, and where we do the work we do. So we now have a much more remote workforce. We really focus on work-life fit. 

We have screens, business development screens, around work we will not do as an organization to be consistent to our values. Would we have gotten there if we hadn’t heard directly from our staff how important they were? Maybe not. I think we would’ve been happy to not break glass on any of those areas, but that’s why we try to learn.

I think the second is: our field is so dynamic. We are a larger organization. We really need to have our ears to the ground to be able to respond to that client need in a meaningful way. 

And I think the third part of being a learning culture is: Where, as leaders, can you acknowledge mistakes? Can you be candid about risks that you’ve taken, where you failed, and permissioning yourself to do that? 

I think that another core component to it is radical transparency. We share our financials with every single person in the organization twice a year. I’ve had staff come up to me and say, “That’s really unusual. I’ve never had that. I’ve never had that in a nonprofit. I’ve never had that in a for-profit. I’ve never had that at the government agency I’ve worked for.” My view is, “You are part of the success of this organization. You should have visibility into that.” We also share that staff survey that I shared with you, and it doesn’t always paint management in a positive light. I’ve taken the bet that living the values of transparency matter more than whatever the downsides may be of exposing what some of those failures are. 

Denver: Oh, I wish more people would learn that. 

In terms of sharing your fiscals, I find that to be so important for a corporate culture because if every single person in the organization doesn’t know how the firm makes money, it really hurts you. If everybody understands, then so many other behaviors become logical, and they know how they can contribute to that bottom line. So, it serves so many purposes.

Sampriti: It also allows narratives to foster, and people can come up with their own idea of what is important. So we really do try to share those tradeoffs. I think I focus even more on that because so much of our employee workforce is from the social sector, so just trying to build that financial fluency. I always say, “That’s a great skill to have, whether you apply it in your work, whether you apply it in your life, but I hope you walk away with a fundamental understanding of what it takes to run an enterprise, whether that enterprise is your household, whether that enterprise is a firm one day.” And I do think our staff generally appreciate that. 

Denver: Second takeaway I had, and your millennials answered part of it for me, really had to do with diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are difficult, but not nearly as difficult as equity. It’s really hard to move the needle. You talked a little bit about how you change your work and the work you’re taking on, but talk a little bit more of the advice you could give to somebody who’s trying to implement equity within their organization. 

Sampriti: I think the first is: come up with a good definition that is standard. Otherwise, equity and fairness and treating everybody the same tend to get conflated very quickly. The reality is you have to have a standard definition of what equity is. 

For us, it’s equitable management practices, and one of the places we do that is in compensation. I wouldn’t say it’s controversial, but it’s surprising to many, which is we have a very standard policy of: we don’t negotiate people coming and advocating for their compensation. The reason for that is we have found that that is an inequitable management practice. There are certain individuals, certain personality types – extroverts, for example – who tend to disproportionately self-advocate. That is a real disadvantage in our firm, a real disadvantage for individuals who come from a culture where that self-advocacy is not a prized value. 

And so, we’ve essentially said, “We don’t negotiate that way.” 

Denver: No teacher’s pets. 

Sampriti: No teacher’s pets. “And by the way, you, as an individual, here is what your compensation band is at this level and at the next level. And so, you can very easily say,  “I want to make more money, and I want to go somewhere else.” And people say, “Well, that’s really demoralizing.” We say, “That’s radical transparency, and that’s an equitable management practice.” It may not always serve us the best when we are trying to retain the highest performers, but it is the equitable management practice to which we can commit. Those are the types of places where I think organizations really need to rethink standard HR policies in order to try to live those equitable management values. 

We have a training that we are running across the entire firm this year which has less to do with compensation and a lot more to do with opportunity: How do we decide who is getting these opportunities? How do we make those opportunities most accessible to everyone? How is that an equitable management practice?

So, no teacher’s pets and no picking. No favorites either, so this works both ways. 

Denver: So interesting. You have one of the best workplace cultures around, but you still have the same challenges with retention that a lot of other consulting firms do, and that gets us back to our prison conversation. There’s a lot of opportunities in the workforce right now for people to go.

Speak a little bit about your philosophy of leadership, the influences in your life that have helped shape you as a leader, and maybe a lesson you’ve learned that has served you well in your current role? 

Sampriti: Well, I would like to think that I’m still learning as a leader.

Denver: Well, that’s one of the lessons. 

Sampriti: That’s a lesson. I actively seek feedback, and I try to seek it in a way that is not intimidating to others. There are some power structures that make delivering direct feedback hard, so I try  to actively seek that feedback.

I had a former CEO who gave me really good advice, which was: There are times where consensus is a really important tool. There are times where the appearance of consensus is an important tool. And there are times where you have to be an executive and know how to make those decisions. 

And so, I’ve tried to be very clear with teams on: here’s where I truly am genuinely seeking your decision. Here’s where I’ve already made a decision. But I think us getting together, airing all of the different spectrum of opportunities, understanding what risks are… to be able to manage that we’ll get to that outcome. And here’s where I actually genuinely cannot make a decision, and I need your perspectives. 

Where I find points of tension with a leader is when that’s not really clear, and where I see a lot of wasted energy in organizations is when you know that a leader has made up his or her mind, and everyone’s sitting around the table and not spending a lot of time. I’m a working parent with two teenage kids, so there is nothing I prize more than my time and the time of people I work with. The social sector doesn’t always optimize to time, the corporate sector and certainly the consulting business may be over-steerers, but that’s always a good guide for me.

The other leadership  trick that I have taken is:   I’m very particular about meetings. I find people spend a lot of time in meetings. So I tend to look around the room, and I say, “There’s six people here. Do you need me for this meeting? And if so, why? If you don’t, let me step out of this meeting. And if you guys can’t get to a decision, come to me to help  be the umpire on that.” I think over time, empowering people to come to decisions on their own has just been instrumental. I hope that it’s helped leaders in the organization grow and stretch. And frankly, it’s given me a little bit more time back in my life, too. 

…first and foremost, giving should give you joy. 

I believe that giving at any level is meaningful and purposeful, and I would encourage individuals regardless of how large of a check they can write to spend time thinking about those fundamental values and the expression of that through their philanthropy.

Denver: There you go. Well, I’ve always hated email because of meetings. Because I started my career long enough ago when there wasn’t email, and meetings were pretty small. You had to go around, and you had to get everybody’s secretary at the time for a meeting.

Now, you just say, “I’ll invite everybody.” You know what I mean? And you have more meetings. I would also say just what you mentioned as being a mother of two teenage boys, you can’t always have consensus. Every once in a while, you have to make a decision. 

Let me close with this, Sampriti. Arabella advises families on their giving to increase impact. Now, many of the families listening probably don’t have the wealth of some of your clients, but I guess at least some of that advice would apply to them as well. What should they be thinking about when it comes to their own philanthropic giving?

Sampriti: I think as a general rule, we believe that philanthropy should bring joy. I think the conversations and the field has veered a lot towards the technocratic. But first and foremost, giving should give you joy. So what I would encourage families to do is say: What brings you joy? And is there something that brings joy to you as a family? Or is there something that brings joy to you as an individual? And if you find that your giving is individual, then structure your philanthropy that way. Too many families struggle to be aligned on an issue when sometimes it’s not there. So that’s the first thing I would say. 

I think the second is find a cause that you can not only write checks to, but that you can participate in. It’s very rare to see hands-off givers today, but find something for which you can apply both your time and your treasure, I think, is the second thing that we would say to families.

And the third, the joy and the pain of philanthropy is patience. Social change is very hard, and it does take a long time. So if you’re going to find something, ask yourself: Can you see yourself doing this 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now? Can you see yourself learning the hard way like donors have done in the education reform space, for example? And if so, are you okay with trying something new in this pretty philanthropic space? What I say by that is: if you’re really set in your ways already without having done that educational journey, sometimes that’s a little bit of a red flag for families. So those are some of the questions that we ask. 

I believe that giving at any level is meaningful and purposeful, and I would encourage individuals, regardless of how large of a check they can write, to spend time thinking about those fundamental values and the expression of that through their philanthropy.

Denver: All wonderful advice. 

Well, Sampriti Ganguli, the CEO of Arabella Advisors, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Tell us about your website and maybe what some of these donors will find there to be useful.

Sampriti: Our website, www.arabellaadvisors.com , will give you an overview of our services. We have some great case studies of how we’ve helped philanthropists go from idea to impact, and you’ll get to meet our great staff along the way.

Denver: Well, there you go. Well, Sampriti, it was a real pleasure to have you on the show. I could have talked to you all day.

Sampriti: It was a pleasure as well. Thank you for your time.

Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.

Sampriti Ganguli and Denver Frederick


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/businessofgiving.

https://www.denver-frederick.com/2020/02/24/sampriti-ganguli-ceo-of-arabella-advisors-joins-denver-frederick/