Giving away money is easy, but doing so in the most effective and efficient manner is difficult. This is the message author Thomas Tierney delivered Thursday night to 200 philanthropists, board members and nonprofit executives gathered for the fall Inspiring Philanthropy talk and reception sponsored by the Maine Community Foundation.

Tierney, who is the author of “Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results” and the co-founder and chairman of the nonprofit advisory organization the Bridgespan Group, spoke at the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center in Portland.

“American is a land of freedom,” Tierney told the crowd in the Hannaford Hall auditorium. “One of our great freedoms is philanthropic freedom. This creates a choice: What do we want to accomplish?”

He went on to add that the decision to seek results from charitable giving is a choice.

“If you want to give smart … you have to impose that mission on yourself,” Tierney said.

In order to do so, he told us that we must realize that “money does not matter as much as influence and time” and that giving to “fewer things in a bigger way for a longer period of time” is a proven way to get better results. He also pointed out that a nonprofit organization’s overhead and administrative costs shouldn’t be judged solely based on its percentage of total costs, because staffing is a crucial area when it comes to an organization’s effectiveness.


After he spoke, Tierney’s longtime friend Forrest Berkley, who is a retired asset manager and a full-time philanthropist who summers in Maine, took to the stage with Tierney and asked him a series of questions.

Following this interesting Q&A session, we were treated to a special performance by the Pihcintu Multicultural Children’s Chorus. Composed of young women whose families have recently immigrated to Maine along with those whose families have lived here for generations, the choral group delighted us with their lovely voices as they sang three uplifting songs. We also learned that the group is scheduled to appear on the “Today” show on Dec. 12.

Next, we gathered in the soaring foyer outside the auditorium for a reception, where we had a chance to discuss what we’d just heard.

“This is terrific that we can get a smart, capable guy to talk about philanthropy,” Anne Jackson of Yarmouth told me. Jackson serves on the Maine Community Foundation board and other local boards.

She said Tierney’s comments about giving more money to fewer causes made her want to go home and carefully scrutinize the pile of gift solicitation envelopes on her desk.

“We need to be more strategic about what we’re giving,” Jackson said.


Ken Spirer, who is a former board chair of the Maine Community Foundation and currently serves on a number of boards, including the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, agreed with Jackson.

“I like the idea of giving more to fewer things and not trying to solve every problem,” Spirer told me.

As the head of the Maine Philanthropy Center, Janet Henry is intimately aware of the challenges of giving.

Henry said it’s important for donors to invest in “leaders and organizations that have impact and (to stay with the organization) for the long haul.”

Peter Lamb, who serves on the Maine Community Foundation board and is a senior fellow at The Philanthropic Initiative, told me, “The big takeaway for me is it’s important to mix it up a bit, Also, it’s long-term work. It’s not a short-term project. You need to take risks.”

These are all wonderful words of wisdom to ponder as we enter the traditional season of giving.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.