The Art of Doing Good: Where Passion Meets Action

Twice a year, thousands of young Jewish adults leave their family, friends, and the comforts of home to see and experience historic and contemporary Israel. Their all-expenses-paid trips are made possible by Taglit-Birthright Israel, which was created by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies in 1994 to motivate participants to explore their Jewish identity and think about what Israel means for them and the Jewish people.

Taglit-Birthright is one of many programs created by Charles Bronfman, retired co-chair of the Seagram Company and founding owner of the now-defunct Montreal Expos. The Art of Doing Good: When Passion Meets Action, the second book written by Bronfman and Bronfman Philanthropies president Jeffrey Solomon, provides practical advice for anyone looking to turn a "do-gooder" idea into a lasting program or organization that improves people's lives and, ultimately, changes the world.

While the book is based on the experiences of Bronfman and Solomon, it also shares stories from eighteen nonprofit leaders who turned their passion for a cause or issue into a successful business. They include Rebecca Onie, whose college internship led her to create Health Leads (formerly Project HEALTH), which connects undergraduate volunteers with urban clinics serving low-income patients; Scott H. Silverman, whose treatment program led him to create Second Chance and a second career helping others in recovery; and Jordan Kassalow, whose "aha" moment happened when, as an optometrist trainee, he helped a seven-year-old boy see for the first time by figuring out that the boy's problem was not blindness but profound myopia an event that inspired him to create VisionSpring, which works to reduce poverty and generate opportunity in the developing world through the sale of affordable eyeglasses. Others profiled in the book include Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children's Zone), Sara M. Green (Art for Refugees in Transition), Darrell Hammond (KaBOOM!), and Carolyn LeCroy (The Messages Project).

Before outlining the "life cycle" of a nonprofit, Bronfman and Solomon, in a chapter on "What It Takes," caution that launching a nonprofit organization requires a "profound emotional commitment" to a cause or issue. Indeed, they suggest that before readers leap into such work, they ask themselves the following: "Am I prepared to stay with this idea for ten years to make it happen?" "Are other organizations doing what I seek to do?" "If so, why am I not contributing to them?"

Bronfman and Solomon are nothing if not frank: creating a new nonprofit is arduous work and demands the endurance of a marathon runner. "But don't let us scare you off," they write. "Although creating a nonprofit may be hard, it can also be fantastically rewarding. Here, compensation is not measured in dollars. In performing a broad service to humanity, rather than merely generating revenue for a few, you create meaning, identity, and purpose for many. If you succeed, you'll make the world a better place, and how many people can say that?"

Subsequent chapters offer real-life examples of their recommendations borrowed from the experiences of the eighteen leaders highlighted in the book. In a chapter titled "Getting Off the Ground," for instance, Bronfman and Solomon share the story of Linda Fondren to illustrate how a slow-and-steady approach often leads to greater success for new organizations. Fondren's cause was health and wellness in Mississippi, which has the highest rate of obesity — 66 percent — in the country. After Fondren's sister, who was obese, died of brain cancer, Fondren, a real estate developer, was determined to do something about the problem. She started by looking into gym franchises where she could create exercise programs for overweight women. Eventually, she came across a chain called Shape Up Sisters, bought it, sold off the franchises outside Mississippi, and turned the remainders into all-women's gyms where overweight women lacking self-esteem could "connect...[with others and] have a conversation....And they don't even quite realize that they get healthy in the process."

Fondren also began meeting with various stakeholders in Vicksburg, where she lives, including elected officials, medical workers, restaurants, and local businesses, to create a community-wide support system. "I asked everyone to come together as a community so that we can help each other, and everyone was more than happy to come on board. I didn't get one no." Subsequently, local restaurants began offering healthier menus, hospitals provided free cholesterol readings and diabetes checks, and the community organized walking clubs. The result was a grassroots movement, Shape Up Vicksburg, aimed at making Vicksburg the fittest city in the nation. Others noticed. After Vicksburg residents lost a total of 15,000 pounds in a single year, CNN saluted her as one of its Top Heroes of 2010.

Fondren was able to turn her original idea, doing something about obesity in Mississippi, into a success because of a series of strategic decisions she made along the way — "many of them so intuitively that she was scarcely aware of making them at all," Bronfman and Solomon write. In the process, she followed what they define as the six keys to success: "a defined mission that identifies the core purpose of the organization; a more precise goal that transforms the mission into something doable; a clear objective that is achievable and near term; a strategy to accomplish that objective; the actions required to execute the strategy; and measurement of results that will reveal success."

In addition to that excellent list, Bronfman and Solomon provide chapters on how nonprofit founders can brand their organizations in their own image, the pros and cons of partnerships, using connections to generate support, setting goals and staying on track finding and staffing your organization with the right people, the importance of planning and how to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and how to diversify your funding streams, as well as a useful index of nonprofit resources and a list of philanthropy support organizations, nonprofit sector publications, academic programs, and funders interested in capacity-building initiatives.

In short, the Art of Doing Good is a great resource for social entrepreneurs just getting started, nonprofit leaders interested in sharpening their management skills, and anyone with a passion to the change the world who is looking for a little inspiration and some very practical advice.

Regina Mahone
Staff Writer, PND
Foundation Center
New York, New York