Richard Klopp, Ph.D.’15, works across continents to strengthen small- to medium-sized nonprofit organizations by leading change management practices. He currently serves as the chief people officer for Water for Good, the Central African Republic’s first ever locally-owned and operated water drilling business.
Learn more about him and his background, knowledge, and experiences, and what led him to complete a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies.
Richard Klopp (RK): I was born in Indianapolis in 1962. My parents did missionary work in Mali, West Africa, and so I had the opportunity to grow up in the city of Timbuktu. We came back to the USA when I was 18 and two years later the family moved to Québec City, Canada, where I became a Canadian citizen.
I have worked in the nonprofit sector since 1990. I have mostly focused on startup and turnaround; both nonprofits trying to launch business ventures, or businesses trying to launch social ventures. A lot of my work has been with organizations focused on Africa since that is where I grew up.
Essentially, I developed a form of consulting that allowed me to work with small- to medium-sized ventures, by taking a position, either as staff or a contractor, and leading change management in that part of the organization or for the whole organization. So I’ve been the executive director, CEO, COO, CDO of a number of organizations, but I’ve always hired to lead the change needed in that organization. It’s been a unique but extremely satisfying career.
I’ve mused that I have probably been the true “knowledge worker” that Peter Drucker wrote about. One can easily see why the Ph.D. in philanthropic studies was a real boost to the work I was already doing and have continued to do since. As I often say: the problem I discerned early on is that the social sector was split between activists who didn’t pay enough attention to what academics in the sector write, and academics who didn’t pay enough attention to what practitioners do.
I wanted to bridge that gap within myself and within my practice; for a practice informed by the best-known theory, and theory linked to best of class practice. Fortunately for me and my clients over the years since then, I found the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where these two worlds come together in every class.
What brought you to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy?
RK: I noticed early on in my career of helping organizations isolate and solve their managerial problems that most issues would somehow connect back to the way the organization was resourced. In other words, in order to solve problems on the demand side of organizations, I found myself constantly working on the supply side of these same organizations.
So the thought occurred to me that if my professional goal was to help my clients solve their problems, I should necessarily develop knowledge and expertise on philanthropy, fundraising, and any other topic associated with how social change ventures located and leveraged the resources they needed to function. To pursue this interest initially, I read every book I could find on the topic.
I gradually noticed that quite a few of these books were from Indiana University Press. My mom was an IU alum, and so I looked into why books on philanthropy and fundraising would be coming from Indiana University Press. Of course, this is how I found out about the then Center on Philanthropy. In 2005, we moved from Québec City to Indianapolis, where I started the Ph.D. program. This was one of the best decisions I have made in life, as it opened me up to learning, new colleagues and the chance to home my intellectual and practical skills so as to better help the organizations I continue to work with to this day.
What kinds of practical knowledge did you gain at the school?
RK: I gained historical knowledge of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. I have used this knowledge countless times now in the very practical work I do with and for my clients. What many people seem to not know, but that I learned via the school, is that most problems organizations face have been faced by many others before. Often solutions can be found by looking back instead of looking around or forward.
What was your specific area of study, and how did that help with your career goals?
RK: My specific area of study was trying to find out why it is commonplace to assume that poverty is amenable to social scientific understanding and solution. While Bono was encouraging all of us to believe that we could end poverty in our lifetime, I was learning that this concept was already over 100 years old, was called scientific charity or scientific philanthropy, and although all of our books on the history of philanthropy mention the phenomenon, no one had really spent much time studying the late 19th century movement.
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is the kind of place where you can pursue topics like this. Knowing the history of the ideas that I was pursuing in my professional life has made me a much better manager as I work in the relief and international development sector.
What are you doing now?
RK: I have my own consultancy, AVENIR Consulting. The degree allowed me to professionalize my practice, develop an amazing network of colleagues from around the world, and work with clients that I know hired me due to the fact that I have a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies.
Right now, I am working with organizations that raise philanthropic capital in order to use it to help under-served entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I’m focused on doing this both in North America and in Africa.
Who do you most admire in the field of philanthropy?
RK: I admire the unsung heroes of philanthropy, the millions of people who care for others, help others, and in some practical way display other-oriented feelings and action in their milieu. They won’t make it into our books, and will never be a picture on the wall, never make the news, and will never be recognized for what they do, but this is the core of civil society and the deepest meaning of philanthropy: love of humankind.