Richard Brown – Member Spotlight May 2011

Richard A. Brown
Vice President, American Express Philanthropy

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?

I am a liaison between American Express and the community.  As an executive in the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility department, I am charged with engaging the community by providing support to nonprofit organizations on the local and national levels.  My first job in this field was about 23 years ago when I was fortunate enough learn about an entry level grantmaking position in the corporate giving department of a large Fortune 50 company.  I have since worked in the corporate philanthropy arena at six large and very different companies in the New York Metropolitan area.  Working in Corporate Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been an exceptional experience for me because it provides me with the distinctive opportunity to engage all three sectors.  Throughout my career I have had to work with nonprofit leaders to help design programs that meet the giving criteria of the companies I represented while also meeting the critical needs of that organization.  In a number of instances this has also involved the government sector as a financial partner.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

The biggest challenge is ensuring that the corporate relationships we initiate and maintain with nonprofit organizations are beneficial to both parties.  Strategic Philanthropy is about developing relationships that have a genuine and recognizable benefit to the nonprofit receiving the funds and the corporation providing the funds.  If either side is not truly benefiting, then it’s simply not Strategic Philanthropy.

What is your proudest achievement?

The most successful achievement and proudest moment has been the American Express Leadership Academy that we initiated in 2008 in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership.  We started the pilot program with 24 high potential emerging leaders from nonprofit organizations from around the country and today the program has been replicated in New York, Tokyo, and London, franchised with the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona and is a featured post-conference program at the annual National Conference on Volunteering and Service that is sponsored by the Point of Light Foundation and Corporation for National and Community Service.  To date, over 350 aspiring leaders across the globe have participated in one of our American Express Leadership Academies.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?

I am very impressed with the emerging leaders who I meet and interact with in the leadership programs American Express supports.  These exceptional and talented nonprofit leaders are passionate about their work and eager to take on new and difficult challenges facing our community.  These current and future leaders, most of them way younger than me, are dedicated to community service and quite willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve their goals.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I have had a great run in corporate philanthropy and CSR and expect to be quite engaged in this field ten years from now.  Moreover, I have a daughter and son who are 8 and 6 who will require me to be engaged for at least the next 10 years or more.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?

The one piece of advice I would offer a young person is to identify their genuine passion in life and then prepare themselves, through education and networking, to identify a place where they can exercise that passion to have maximum impact.  The more connected one is emotionally, intellectually and passionately to their chosen career/purpose the more successful they will be at having the impact they desire.