David Bohnett Speeches

Remarks upon receiving the CSQ Visionary Award in Philanthropy, Art, and Culture

Thank you, David for the kind words of introduction. It’s an honor to be here and I’ve been looking forward to the evening. Your decision to dedicate the Fall edition of CSQ to philanthropy and to highlight those individuals and organizations that are doing their part to tackle social service and social justice inequalities in Southern California is very inspiring and admirable.

I salute my fellow honorees this evening, Jane and Marc Nathanson, Lori Bettison-Varga, Rachel Moore, Al Mann, and Laura Skandera Trombley for their leadership, generosity, and valuable contributions to our community.

It’s been my great privilege to support Rick Nahmias and Food Forward. As Rick mentioned, it was a serendipitous occasion that day on my bike when I saw Food Forward volunteers harvesting fruit from the then diminished Franklin Canyon Orange Grove. And now, a year later, with a restored and reinvigorated orchard, Food Forward, in cooperation with the LA Parks Foundation, has harvested over 10,000 pounds of produce distributed for free to local food banks throughout Los Angeles. I am very proud of Rick and Food Forward’s important work.

Last year it was my pleasure to be included in the fall issue of CSQ highlighting the work of the LA Philharmonic in our community and the Phil’s education programs, our youth orchestra program, YOLA, and our outreach to underserved parts of our city.

I’ve heard from quite a few number of people who have seen this Fall’s CSQ article, and as a matter of fact just yesterday, I met someone for the first time and he was startled, having just seen my photo on the cover of the magazine. The feature story is a great honor, but more so, the visibility of the article is a personal call to action to help contribute to the collective philanthropic aspirations of all the individuals profiled.

My comments this evening have taken a different direction given the tragedy of the recent events in Paris, and how we are dealing with our own understanding of this horror.

Just last night, at a reception for one of our local performing arts organizations, a woman came up to me and said; “I feel so helpless not knowing how or where to put my time and effort to make a difference. You’re someone in a leadership position, can you help me ?”

In the aftermath of the Paris massacres, there are so many people who want to do something, but don’t know how or where to get involved.

If I step back for a moment, when I started the internet company, GeoCities, in the mid-1990’s, my goal was to create a destination on the web where everyone had a chance to contribute and participate in the new medium of the web. We did this by offering tools and utilities to create a free website on any topic of interest, and these web sites were organized into communities of like minded individuals. GeoCities was an early form of what we now call a social network, such as Facebook and Pinterest, among others.

The key philosophy I would return to time and time again were the concepts of contribution and participation, and in the GeoCities context, it was putting this effort forth on the web.

Our challenge, as philanthropists and individuals who are involved and passionate about our community, is how do we take the concepts of contribution and participation and apply it to the problems and issues of the world and society at large.

This, to me, is the key challenge of our day. Figuring out ways to empower individuals to help collectively participate in activities and solutions that lead to a more fair and just society.

Frankly, I don’t have a silver bullet to answer this question, but I do have a few ideas that I’ll challenge all of us to pursue.

There are many of us here who are self motivated to give and get involved, and our challenge is to remember that there are many, many, friends and business associates, generous, smart, well meaning productive people, who may not be as self motivated to find and tackle the challenges in society as some of us may be.

In these cases, which is in fact the majority of people we come in contact with, these folks need to be asked to get involved. Asking someone to learn about a particular organization and potentially get involved is doing them a huge favor. You are giving them the opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and as a related benefit, gain that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction having contributed and participated in making our community a better place.

Instead of seeing that asking for help is a burden, we need to turn our thinking around and give the gift of asking someone to help, the gift of asking someone to get involved. I’m really not talking about money, that part comes once someone feels a connection to the organization and the constituents is serves. I’m talking about the thing more precious and important than money, which is the gift of time.

The future of philanthropy is asking those we’re closest to and that we come in contact the most, to join you in getting involved in the passions you both share in common. One person can indeed change the world, and for many of those people, they simply need to be asked and given a place to start.

It’s my mission that we all leave this evening with a renewed sense of hope and commitment that we are empowered to bring others into our movement. Thank you again, David. You have inspired all of us to continue our work and expand our efforts to include others.