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Published: 05-07-2018

Thoughts From My Father Jonathan Foster

My father, Dr. Charles Foster, was a world-renowned environmentalist. Initiatives spearheaded by him during his 60-year career have had a long-term effect on natural resource preservation and public policy in the United States. He was also an effective leadership executive. During his lifetime, he served as the Secretary of Environmental Affairs for Massachusetts, President of the Nature Conservancy, Dean of the Yale Forestry School, and wrote numerous books on environmental policy while associated with the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard during his last 20 years.

Although I was the recipient of numerous pearls of wisdom from my father until he passed away in 2012, here are two that stand out.

“The maximum number of people anyone can manage is five.”

This was quite a statement from someone who at a time led a staff of tens of thousands. His meaning here was simple…pick great people, delegate, give them authority, let them make mistakes.

“Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.”

The message here is pretty straightforward. Don’t complain unless you are ready to go to work and fix it. In Dad’s world, complaining means you were also volunteering.

How do I interpret these teachings as I think about philanthropy? Here are some thoughts;

• Let’s all stop whining about politics, injustice, poverty, hunger, and education, etc let’s DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
• Pick a problem about which you are passionate, figure out how to get involved.
• Set measurable, achievable goals. Build upon your “wins.”
• Organize. You can’t do everything yourself. Build a great organizational structure with good people “owning” different parts of the project. Break the project down to separate building blocks that when put together, build a great organization with measurable impact.

Effective philanthropy all begins with effective leadership.

Jonathan Foster
August 2017

If you would like to discuss effective philanthropy and how you and your family can make a lasting difference please email me

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