The Education Broker
When education nonprofits need private funds, Lisa Philp plays matchmaker
By David McKay Wilson
If, as many people believe, the future of education is public-private partnerships, the world is going to need more people like Lisa Philp.
Witness the critical, behind-the-scenes role Philp played last summer in ensuring the success of i3, the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund.
Under the program, nearly 1,700 education nonprofits from around the country submitted proposals for out-of-the-box approaches to boost student achievement. In early August, USDOE chose 49 winners—and then things got interesting. Federal law required the i3 funds to be assigned by September, leaving the recipients with just one month to come up with the requisite 20 percent matching private funds.
“It was all or nothing—the groups either raised their match, or they were shut out,” says Philp, 45, a TC master’s degree student in interdisciplinary studies who also serves as Managing Director and Global Head of Philanthropic Services at J.P. Morgan Private Bank.
Under intense pressure, Philp found funding partners for 14 nonprofit organizations to win grants, including two New York City programs—the School of One, which combines teacher-led instruction with individualized software, and the District 75 arts education program for children with special needs. Among those answering Philp’s call was Laurie Tisch, Vice Chair of the Teachers College Board of Trustees, who provided matching funds through the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
“Lisa has the reputation for being a really straight shooter and very organized,” Tisch says. “She knows what she is talking about.”
Indeed, few people have a better understanding of the sea changes in philanthropy in recent decades—particularly on the education front. Philp began her career at Public Technology, Inc., a nonprofit resource for municipalities in Washington, D.C. After earning her MBA in marketing and nonprofit management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, she entered New York’s philanthropic world at the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers, now known as Philanthropy New York.
There, she served as Director of Communications and Government Relations, forging public-private partnerships to support neighborhood improvement programs around the city. In 1998, she joined J.P. Morgan as a vice-president of community relations and philanthropic services, working with the corporation’s charitable giving program and taking on grantmaking responsibilities for several legacy foundations set up through estate planning years before. It soon became apparent that, in addition to such major players as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, education was becoming a priority for small family foundations and individuals.
In 2003, Philp became head of her department and transitioned from corporate giving to the Private Bank. Her duties now include helping individuals and families set up foundations, vetting organizations to which her clients may want to donate, and developing strategies to target clients’ giving.
“There are times when someone sells a business or inherits money and decides it’s time to move from being a check-book giver to becoming a more strategic philanthropist,” she says. “They want to become more engaged, so we connect them to resources and help them become more effective.”
Thus it was a case of right person, right place, right time when Philp and her team got involved with i3 last year. As nonprofits prepared their proposals and states competed for Race to the Top funding, Philp brought Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, to J.P. Morgan’s headquarters on Park Avenue for an event with clients interested in education. Duncan, along with foundation officers and major education philanthropists, talked about emerging trends and opportunities. Philp also polled those in attendance on the most important role for private philanthropy in education reform. Well over two thirds chose public-private partnerships.
“There was so much energy, everyone was wondering how to collaborate, and then we came up with the idea of providing the match for the i3 program,” she says.
Philp subsequently wrote a concept paper and spread the word through her circles about evidence-based practices that would be supported by i3. She held another session with Duncan and philanthropists in Washington, DC. And then, right on schedule, the donors wrote their checks to a pooled fund to support vetted i3 grantees.
This past January Philp was back in D.C. to convene a session of i3 grant recipients, donors and foundations, to build on the relationships she’d established. Now she’s planning events with major philanthropists and education officials in Houston and Newark.
Philp is convinced that individuals with great personal wealth can make a decided difference in the education world by collaborating with others on reform efforts at the state and local levels. She’s so passionate about the idea that she’s made it a focus of her research at TC, where she first began taking courses in 2008 as a Revson Fellow at Columbia University, under the guidance of her advisor, faculty member Jeffrey Henig.
“I’m looking for ways to get folks more informed on promising practices,” says Philp. “A lot of my clients are entrepreneurs, who have first-generation wealth. Many had modest middle-class upbringings and feel very fortunate to have had a good education. They are horrified by the thought that equal opportunity isn’t more broadly available. They want to leverage their giving for more impact.”