Joshua Humbert is a 2015 graduate of the master’s degree program at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Here, he speaks with Ann Boyd-Stewart, assistant dean for fundraising and alumni relations, about his journey to philanthropy and what he’s doing now.
When did you receive your master’s degree, and how did you initially find out about the school?
Joshua Humbert: Very ambitious is a precise description for me, which is uniquely balanced with a genuine and selfless spirit. I received my master’s degree in philanthropic studies from the No. 1 nationally ranked school in philanthropy, Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in May 2015. I’ve been told that I have a knack for finding my way to the source, thus my journey to Indianapolis, IN, only exemplifies this. During my time as Director of Emerging Markets at University of Maryland, Dr. Robert Grimm, M.A.’98, was recruited to launch the University of Maryland’s philanthropy program. With my interest in philanthropy heightening, I sought out in pursuit of a degree in philanthropy and understood that if the University of Maryland was in its infancy with aspirations of being a national leader, why not go where the person charged with establishing a prominent philanthropic program received his degree.
What did you like best?
JH: Honestly, it fused my love for both business and philanthropy in a symbiotic relationship. With Indiana University’s program, I didn’t have to choose between my purpose and making a great living. It was more than fundraising. Indiana University brought to life a multifaceted vision for a University Center that would serve the nonprofit sector and create a new academic field of study while examining philanthropy through teaching, research, and service.
What was your path in the philanthropic sector?
JH: My vision is to be a national thought leader within the philanthropic sector, and with an alias of Mr. Philanthropy, that’s @Mrphilanthropy (shameless plug), I was going to need to understand philanthropy in its entire scope and history versus my previous knowledge, but still limited capacity of fundraising. I would need to understand more than just how to raise a dollar, but know more importantly how philanthropy plays a role in the public sector, business and within the everyday lives of people I may never meet.
Now you’re a consultant. What made you take that jump? Do you see this career move best fits your style, skill set?
JH: While fundraising for various organizations, I realized many nonprofits simply didn’t concentrate on the individual, but instead their title and bank account status. So no, I didn’t foresee the consulting route, but instead was a part of the aforementioned system of fundraising of ‘what you can do for me,’ which is quite different from who I am at my core. My career is composed of various acts of making deposits in a person’s life before I considered a withdrawal. This moral compass spans from relationships with wealthy individuals to working professionals to those on the margins of society. The jump for me was an alignment with my core beliefs and relationships. I truly came to understand the value of social capital and how to exercise it.
What does a typical consulting week look like?
JH: The irony is that there isn’t a typical week. Connecting and building mutually beneficial relationships for my clients is core in every week’s work. I teach my clients across varied industries and sectors how to optimize and monetize their relationships that they spend a lifetime creating. This makes every week different by the sheer range of client backgrounds and needs; the common thread is that we help them grow as professionals and personally, so that they have no excuse why philanthropy isn’t part of their daily lives.
Tell us about your clients.
JH: Currently, I work with a networks of corporate leaders around the world—including philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, celebrities and civil society leaders—helping them connect to their philanthropic purpose, build social capital, and develop their personal and professional goals. The result: greatly increased capacity to be forces for change in their communities.
Do you see a need for diversity in consulting?
JH: As with most industries, a lack of diversity limits the ability to innovate and connect globally. Philanthropy is no different. However, I see a greater need to disrupt the mentality of how and why we give and serve. The need for new ways to solve problems amongst the philanthropic sector, practitioners and thought leaders is on par with recruiting the right minds across varied backgrounds to drive lasting change.
Did you have traditions of philanthropy within your family?
JH: Yes, I grew up in a church-based environment. My entire life was engulfed in service to others. I grew up using social capital long before I knew what is was, much less exhibiting mastery of the skill. Growing up for me was to grow up quite modestly, and often times without means and exposed to danger at certain points. However, the support of my community sheltered me and my family from the extreme impacts and sometimes life-altering manifestations that came from such circumstances. The act of reciprocity and the ability to sympathize are deeply ingrained in me as a lifetime recipient and giver of philanthropy.
What is the greatest challenge for historically underrepresented donors?
JH: Philanthropy has a way of seeing minorities as individuals who need to be saved or helped. I’ve noticed that many nonprofits and donors want to serve the less fortunate, rather than serve alongside them. Donors who have seen the problem up close need to be a part of the decision-making process of how resources are strategically distributed. Most programs are created in a vacuum; donors who understand the challenges or social ills can be of tremendous resource. To accomplish the aforementioned, we must embrace donors from varied and diverse backgrounds and most importantly, receive them as vehicles for change.
What is the greatest challenge for historically underrepresented fundraisers in the sector?
JH: Ironically, it’s not too different than the greatest challenges of for-profits, which is investing in human capital by recruiting qualified people who most accurately reflect the communities you impact and serve. Fundraisers need to create or contribute to diversity pipelines by being proactive in creating opportunities through fellowships, internships, and outreach efforts, so that talented individuals from diverse backgrounds can become competitive candidates and lend to an organization’s success.
Prepare and reserve a seat at the table for invested talent by opening doors that create strategies and develop innovative ways to meet donors and communities that have not been typically engaged.
What do you hope for 10 or 20 years from now in the nonprofit sector in terms of diversity?
JH: More than money, human capital will be the most vital treasure the nonprofit sector will have to increase and gather. I hope that the nonprofit sector is able to tap into a vast range of perspectives, ideas and experiences that keep pace with a truly modernized society, while also developing disruptive technology and models that harness collective engagement to solve problems and prevent them.
How we build relationships, as well as how we influence the hearts and minds of practitioners and donors, will be the key to solving real problems and advancing the nonprofit sector in diverse fashions decades from now.