Dec. 19, 2019

Connecting for Good with Daniel Lurie

It’s the holidays, a time when many of us think of giving, both to our loved ones and to those in need, making this the perfect time to share our interview with Daniel Lurie, who has spent his career in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector focused specifically on supporting low-income individuals and breaking the cycle of poverty. 

In 2005, Daniel along with three other co-founders created Tipping Point, the San Francisco Bay Area’s leading poverty-fighting organization. Since its inception, Tipping Point has invested almost a quarter of a billion dollars in early childhood, education, employment, and housing programs, reaching over 600,000 people in need. 

In our conversation, Daniel shares the story of his career and offers advice for anyone interested in working in nonprofits.

Meet the Guest
Daniel Lurie founded Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit that aims to break the cycle of poverty in the Bay Area, in 2005 at the age of 28. Since then, Lurie has led the organization as CEO, helping to raise more than $220 million to support the most effective front-line interventions in education, employment, housing and early childhood development. Tipping Point’s board covers all of its fundraising and operating costs, so 100% of every dollar donated goes where it’s needed most.

Based in San Francisco, a city that has become a symbol for the country’s economic disparity, Lurie has positioned Tipping Point as the leading philanthropic organization tackling poverty in the region, including its bold commitment announced in 2017 to reduce chronic homelessness in San Francisco by 50% in the next five years. He has convened the best of the business world to join in the fight and in 2014 partnered with Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, to raise more than $10 million in 60 days from top companies in the region towards Tipping Point’s poverty alleviation efforts.

And, after the historic fires broke out Northern California, Lurie rallied the region’s corporate community to step up in response. More than 60 corporate partners stood by Tipping Point’s side to host two benefit concerts, raising more than $20 million for Tipping Point’s Emergency Relief Fund, established to support the low-income communities hit hardest by the fires in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties. To date the fund has raised more than $32 million, making it the largest philanthropic response to the fires.

In addition to his role at Tipping Point, Lurie served as Chair of the Super Bowl 50 Bid Committee, helping to bring the game to the Bay Area during its historic 50th anniversary year. After the successful bid, Lurie became Chairman of the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, using the platform to put a spotlight on game-changing nonprofits in the region and helping to raise more than $13 million for community efforts, the largest philanthropic contribution in Super Bowl history. The Super Bowl and its surrounding events attracted over 1 million people to the region and had a net positive economic impact on the Bay Area of more than $240 million.

Prior to founding Tipping Point, Lurie worked for the Bill Bradley Presidential Campaign and the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City. He earned a BA in Political Science from Duke University and received his Master’s in Public Policy from the Goldman School at UC Berkeley. Daniel serves on the Board of Directors for the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, and the Levi Strauss Foundation.

Links
If you’re interested in getting involved or donating to Tipping Point, visit:


Transcript

Beth Davies, host:               Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are. I'm your host, Beth Davies.

Daniel Lurie, guest:             For me personally doing this work and being able to go home knowing that I've done as much as I can for my community, and for our community, that for me is enough.

 Beth:        It’s the holidays, a time when many of us think of giving, both to our loved ones and to those in need, making this the perfect time to share our interview with Daniel Lurie, who has spent his career in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector focused specifically on supporting low-income individuals and breaking the cycle of poverty. 

In 2005, Daniel along with three other co-founders created Tipping Point, the San Francisco Bay Area’s leading poverty-fighting organization. Since its inception, Tipping Point has invested almost a quarter of a billion dollars in early childhood, education, employment, and housing programs, reaching over 600,000 people in need. 

A few months ago, I sat down with Daniel to ask about his career and get his advice for anyone interested in working in nonprofits. 

I started my conversation by asking him about his organization...

 Daniel:             Tipping Point, for 14+ years now, has been tackling poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area. We raise money each and every year. This past year was nearly $25 million and that is our grant making budget for this current fiscal year. We're funding 40+ organizations in each of the four issue areas that you mentioned: education, early childhood, housing, and employment. We try to help our groups be as efficient and effective as they can possibly be at serving families that are living in poverty, individuals that are struggling to make ends meet, and we're trying our best to provide opportunities for everyone in this region that deserves one.

 Beth:               So, you're the founder of this organization?

 Daniel:             I am one of the founders. I've been running it day-to-day since 2005. Ronnie Lott, Chris James, Katie Paige, and I are the four founders, they've served on the board ever since and they are equal founders in it. I just happen to have been running it day-to-day for 14 years.

 Beth:               Why did you create this organization?

 Daniel:             We are seeing obviously the wealth divide and the growing inequality in our society. We saw that 14, 15 years ago and we got this started with Ronnie and Chris and Katie and myself. We live in the wealthiest region in the wealthiest country in the world. We just thought it was unacceptable and we could do something about it. And I knew that the city, this region has so many incredible resources and I wanted to try to connect those resources to those that are trying to help provide opportunity.

 Beth:               When you think about the issues that you're talking about, huge issues, there are lots of different ways you could have gone about getting involved in helping, whether it's to go work for one of the nonprofits that you are funding, whether to work for government. Why did you choose this approach, this part of this ecosystem?

 Daniel:             That's a great question. What I did first out of college is I went and worked on a presidential campaign and for me there was no better testing ground than bill Bradley's presidential campaign, knocking on doors in Iowa, and trying to convince people why the candidate that I was choosing to support was right for our country. I got hands-on experience of what it meant to work 14-16 hours a day right out of college. I worked for somebody that I believed in and I still, to this day, think it was an experience that everyone should try to have – go work on a campaign.

That for me was a jumping off point to then working at a place called the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City where I was on the ground. I was building libraries and elementary public schools throughout New York City and trying to understand whether or not being in the "nonprofit" or philanthropic space was for me.

I really enjoyed the work and I knew how hard it was to work at a nonprofit to serve clients. I saw teachers day in and day out in classrooms and I realized that that was not something that I was going to be very good at. I wanted to support those that were really doing the hard work and that is our teachers, that is our nonprofit executives and their staff. So, I learned in my early twenties, very quickly, what part of this philanthropic ecosystem I wanted to play in.

 Beth:               At what point did you even know that the philanthropic, nonprofit world was calling you?

 Daniel:             To be honest, I didn't know I wanted to be in the philanthropic space until I worked on the Bradley campaign. I did a couple of different jobs. I worked at a consulting firm and then I ended up at Robin Hood and I realized pretty quickly.

September 11th had something to do with that, being down there that morning. I was in New York and I was a block or two from the World Trade Center when everything went down. To be at a Robin Hood for the next two years really crystallized for me what role I wanted to play in my community and that was serving and I thought I had the ability to connect the dots in a way that not everybody has. I wanted to explore that.

So, from the time I was at Robin Hood, from 2001 to 2003, I realized that this could be what works for me.

 Beth:               What I'm hearing you say is that you realized that there were some people who are in the nonprofits, like the teachers playing specific roles, doing specific work. You looked at that and you said, that may not be for me, but there's this whole other role of the people out there who are connecting and bringing together and me, my personality, my skillset is suited to that, so I'm going to orient that way. Is that correct?

 Daniel:             Absolutely. I think you have to know your personality. You have to know what makes you tick? I honestly think being a teacher is probably the hardest profession in our society and I think it's the most important. I wanted to always figure out ways to support those that I believe have more patience than I do. (My wife is probably laughing at me as I say that.) But, I don't have the patience. When you walk into a great classroom and you see these teachers teaching, whether it's in the early childhood space or teaching seventh graders history, that is a special talent and I never had that. We all have our own talents and I knew right away that I wanted to support people that I admired like that and so a Tipping Point is committed to that work.

 Beth:               When I talk to people who are more junior in their career, one thing they may say is, "I don't know what my talents are. I don't know what those strengths are." Do you remember how you tapped into what those are for you?

 Daniel:             I'm still tapping into this. I'm finding more weaknesses every day…

 Beth:               I think that's part of the truth though, right? Like it's an ongoing piece.

 Daniel:             Absolutely. What I've always said to the young people here at Tipping Point and to friends and families, I always think when you are just starting off, I think it's almost better to close doors than to open doors. I think figuring out what isn't suited for you is just as much a blessing as what it is because when you're in your 20s… forget that…if you're still in your 30s and you still haven't figured it out, that's totally understandable.

Most people I know don't figure it out until sometime in their 30s or 40s and some people are late bloomers and they wait until their 50s and that's fine, too. But, I think figuring out what you don't like and what does not work for you is as important as finding out what your strengths are and what gets you fired up each day, because I think what gets you fired up could span a number of different careers and so finding out what doesn't get you fired up is really important.

 Beth:               What role have mentors played for you?

 Daniel:        It's a good question. I have a unique relationship with the board at Tipping Point and I consider them to be mentors in some ways. I guess I haven't sought out mentors in the traditional sense. It's a good question… you've stumped me on that because I think everybody's always saying, "Oh, I want to go get a mentor. I want this or that."

I think the most important thing is to have people that you can bounce ideas off of. For me, it doesn't usually work if someone tells me what to do. It works if I tell them a couple of different ways that I'm thinking and they help me with the pros and cons of those approaches. That's sort of how I operate. Everybody's got their own way, but that's how I'd answer that.

 Beth:               So going back to when you were talking about Robin Hood, you mentioned that you were at Robin Hood, you really were getting a sense that this is what you wanted to do. You then chose to go to grad school. Why did you decide that grad school was important in your career path?

 Daniel:             For me, grad school played a really important purpose in the sense that it got me back to the west coast. I was living in and working in New York City. I knew I wanted to start something like Robin Hood back here in my region. And…

 Beth:               Because you're born and raised in San Francisco?

 Daniel:             Born and raised in San Francisco. Born and raised a Cal Bear fan and the opportunity to go to the Goldman School of Public Policy was one that really kind of helped get me back here and it gave me a two year window to study and to get Tipping Point launched. I used that two years as much for launching Tipping Point as I did for going to class.

 Beth:               Have you always been a goal oriented individual or was there a passion somewhere ignited in you that created this particular goal?

 Daniel:             I think growing up in the family that I did, working for Bill Bradley who always talked about issues of poverty on the campaign trail and I admired that incredibly, and then finding a place like Robin Hood and being part of helping to lift up low income New Yorkers like we were at that foundation. It just, right then and there, I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to start something like Tipping Point back here in the Bay Area.

I don't know if I had specific goals laid out. I knew what was possible with the model of Robin Hood out there and I knew we could create something just as impactful and just as important to this region. I just knew this region deserved an entity like this one and that there was a hole in the sector.

I think what we've done together, 30 board members and the 20 leadership council members and our 50 plus staff and our thousands and thousands of supporters have helped us accomplish a lot. But at the same time, if I was a goal oriented person, I would say that we have not achieved our mission because we have too many people living in poverty. We have too many people living on the streets. And so, I'm more mission driven than goal-driven, I would say.

 Beth:               I like that distinction.

 You just mentioned the size of the organization and it's fun sitting here in your office and seeing the size and seeing the people. There's a nice energy here.

When you started, it was you and a couple of others, so I would imagine you had to wear many hats, probably many hats that you had never worn before. How did you learn to do all the things you needed to do to get this running and off the ground?

 Daniel:             We just went. You just started running and you're running at a fast clip. It was Gene Chang and it was me. It was just two of us. I immediately hired a COO even though she always said she was chief operating officer of no one because there was no one underneath her. And, we were partners. I had no idea what I was doing. Are you kidding? There's no way that anyone could prepare you for this, to try to grow an organization to the size. You just go.

 The one thing I did, I learned a lot from my friends in New York. I knew the philanthropic sector and the nonprofit sector a bit from growing up in San Francisco, but not a lot. I knew that we wanted to make mistakes and we wanted to make them fast, not slow.

 There was a question of, "How long are you going to wait to decide who you give your first grants?" And right away we said, "Let's get going."

 So we made grants in our first three months. I graduated in May of 2005, we had our first board meeting in June of 2005, and in September, I think at our second board meeting, we made three initial grants of $50,000 each. And we said, "Listen, we're gonna make mistakes, but let's go out…"

 Beth:               And we're gonna do it.

 Daniel:             And so, whereas a lot of other people I think go out and they say, "I'm going to study this issue for the next year or two years," we wanted to get going. Now to be fair, going back, I spent the two years at grad school meeting people and learning the ecosystem. So, you could argue I did have that time in that window, but I also had to take statistics and econ courses during that window.

 New Speaker:        We just wanted to get going and, for me, I like action rather than planning. I think it's good to do both, but we really just got started quickly.

 Beth:               Thinking about those two years that you were in school and ruminating on this idea and getting this idea in motion, were there people then who were saying to you, "Hold off, Daniel. Take some other jobs. You're still young. The idea can wait. Get some more experience under your belt." How did you react to that if it was happening?

 Daniel:             Well, I think it's a good question. I had people telling me that we are doing things wrong and that this model wouldn't work in the Bay Area. I wasn't having people tell me take a different job per se. You have to acknowledge, first, that I'm a wealthy, white kid from San Francisco and maybe it's just with the family I came from or what not, so I should acknowledge that piece, that people probably gave me more benefit of the doubt than some other traditional 26, 27 year old kid. But, there weren't a lot of people that thought we could necessarily achieve the success that they saw Robin Hood achieve in New York. I mean, most people did not think that this model could work here, but that's where, once again, I went back leaning on Ronnie, leaning on Chris, leaning on Katie.

 We got some initial really great traditional philanthropists and business leaders that backed us like Don and Doris Fisher. I remember a note that Don wrote to me, that will stay with me for the rest of my life, which was very simple and it was with the first gift that he made. He goes, "You are a true entrepreneur."

 That to me was something that kept me going probably for the first couple of years. So, there were people on the way that kept the confidence up and supported what we were trying to do. Most importantly, it was Ronnie, Chris and Katie believing in this mission and willing to suffer through a 27 year old trying to figure his way out.

 Beth:               The note you just mentioned from from Don Fisher, who was the founder of the Gap, calling you an entrepreneur and yet here you are in the nonprofit, grant making, philanthropy space. It's interesting to hear the word "entrepreneur" and I can imagine people younger and getting started in their careers may think, "I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to get into some of these startups and things that are happening" and therefore not want to consider the not-for-profit world. How would you reconcile this for them?

 Are there entrepreneur opportunities in this space that people don't pay enough attention to?

 Daniel:             100%. There are social entrepreneurs left and right here in the Bay Area, throughout this country, throughout the globe. I've met some great entrepreneurs that are in the nonprofit sector. We've funded them here at Tipping Points and we're always looking for them. So please, if you're out there and you think you have a great idea, we're all ears.

 Now, what we do say, similar to how we started this conversation, is get some real world experience. Get some on the ground experience. Work at a nonprofit work. Work at a foundation. Work and see what issues really get you fired up. Is it education? Is it the environment? Is it issues of homelessness, which is getting all of us in this region fired up right now. We're looking right now for entrepreneurial ways to reduce homelessness in this state.

 So absolutely, entrepreneurs don't just exist in the business world. They exist in every industry.

 Beth:               At a real tactical level, if somebody were saying, "Okay, what are the kinds of jobs in nonprofit that are really suited to somebody just getting started?" What kind of roles come to mind for you?

 Daniel:             We have program staff here at Tipping Point who are fresh out of grad school who go out and support our organizations. We have an education portfolio where we have a few people on the team that are out working hand-in-hand with our groups, whether they be charter schools, whether they be after school programs, understanding where we can support them as grant makers.

You can go work in the school system. You can go work at a group like Reading Partners or a group like Larkin Street Youth and work with kids. There's so many jobs in the nonprofit space. I believe the nonprofit space is 10% of the US workforce at this point, so there are jobs out there where you are on the ground helping young people, helping families, helping single moms. There's a lot of jobs out there, so you just have to look up which areas get you fired up and then go help and go work on these issues that you care about.

 Beth:               What would you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about working in the not-for-profit space?

 Daniel:             That we aren't metrics oriented, that we aren't results oriented. I think that the thing that always gets me really fired up is my friends in the business world going, "Well, yeah, the nonprofits, they don't spend their dollars that wisely" or "They're not that efficient with their dollars." I just want to say, "Do you read the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg or the New York Times and see how much waste there is in the business sector?" I mean there are a lot of companies that throw money away, that are not wise with their dollars as well.

Do we have an issue in the nonprofit sector? Yes. Do you have an issue in the business sector? Yes. So just go find well-run organizations. You should be looking for strong leadership. You should be looking at their 990s. You can find out a lot about a nonprofit before you go, just like you can find out a lot about a business before you go.

 Beth:               That's great advice.

Going back to you for a moment…So you've been now with Tipping Point for nearly 15 years and you've kept yourself motivated. I would imagine, probably like all of us though, there are moments that you're less motivated. Not saying, not motivated, but you know, peaks and valleys. How do you keep yourself motivated for 15 years doing what some people might say is the same thing?"

 Daniel:             You have to keep challenging yourself. I think with the growing organization that we have here at Tipping Point, it feels like there's a new challenge every year. Over the last couple of years, we've added some components to our work that if you had said 7-8 years ago, "Would you be doing this?" I would have said, "I don't think so."

 We have taken on trying to tackle the chronic homeless population in San Francisco and working very closely with the city and county on that and we raised $100 million funds to work just exclusively on that. And we have a team of six that is doing that day in and day out now.

We jumped in on North Bay fire relief a year and a half ago when the fires hit Napa and Sonoma Counties and our North Bay region. We had so many neighbors in such desperate straights. We jumped in with a number of business partners and created the Tipping Point Emergency Relief Funds. We raised $34 million in about six weeks.

 We did a concert called Band Together with Salesforce and the Giants and Google, and many others all jumped in, and we raised $17 million in one night…

 Beth:               This is unbelievable.

 Daniel:             …with Metallica headlining it, and Dave Matthews, and we had this phenomenal night where we really all came together as a community. So, if you had said we'd be doing emergency relief, I would've said yes, that's something, but you can't know until that happens. But, we pulled together and did that and we got that $34 million out all in about 10 to 12 months.

Each year it seems like there's a new challenge in front of us at Tipping Point. And to be honest, like I said before, we have huge issues of inequality. We have huge opportunity gap issues. Our education system is still failing our kids. We're not housing enough people. Not enough people have a living wage job despite the fact that in this tech sector and this booming economy, there are still a lot of unfilled jobs. So, we can do so much better.

 For us at Tipping Point, it feels like there's a new challenge every week. And then to go back to what I also said earlier, we know that the real hard work is being done at our organizations, in our groups, and we are to try to ease the burden on them as much as possible. And that never fails to keep us motivated.

 Beth:               It also seems that you're here to do exactly what you learned about yourself at Robin Hood when you were starting, when you said you learned about yourself, that you're a connector. For an organization to raise the type of money that you did in those short timeframes, show that you've created an organization that's about a connector. You really created an organization around this strength of yours, which is really impressive.

 I've got four more questions that I'd like to ask you. The first is, what would you say is the smartest career move that you personally have made, whether intentionally or accidentally?

 Daniel:             I went to Duke University and I heard Bill Bradley speak on campus and at that time everybody was going to do investment banking or consulting jobs. There was no Google or Facebook or tech boom. It was either those two things, and I think some people may have been going to hedge funds as well, and it just didn't speak to me. But, Bill Bradley did speak to me and so I went. I drove up to West Orange, New Jersey the day after graduation and I said, "I want to work on the campaign." I was in Iowa about two weeks later and I worked there for nine months on the Iowa caucuses and I just kind of went where my passion was and what excited me the most. So, following my passion on my first job out of college was probably the best decision I made.

 Beth:               What about the flip side? If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?

 Daniel:             (Sigh) That's a good question. I honestly feel that the consulting job that I took, I was only there for six months and it was not a fit for me, but it closed the door for me. I knew what I didn't like to do after that. And I think that was valuable for me. I think as a young person you should take some shots and even if it doesn't work out, I think it's worth it.

 Beth:               And celebrate the closing of the door. If you learn something about yourself, close the door. Celebrate that.

 Daniel:             Yes.

 Beth:               What's one piece of career advice that you'd like to give your younger self?

 Daniel:             That's a really good question. Just go for it. I mean, if you're hesitating, jump in, do it more quickly. I'd like to think I've done that, but not always. And I…

 Beth:               Don't hesitate.

 Daniel:             Don't hesitate. Jump in.

 Beth:               And the last question for you, how do you define success?

Daniel:        For me personally, doing this work and being able to go home, knowing that I've done as much as I can for my community, and for our community, that that for me is enough. Being able to walk in the door and my kids knowing that I put in a full day of work and it was meaningful. I think that's probably what I would say is been successful for me.

 Beth:               Thank you, Daniel.

 Daniel:             Thank you for having me.

 Beth:               I've enjoyed hearing about what you're doing and how you got here and what drives you. So thank you for sharing your story.

 Daniel:             Thank you for the insightful questions.

 Beth:               A quick epilogue…

Since our interview, Daniel announced that in early January, 2020, he’s stepping down as CEO of Tipping Point. He’ll continue on as Chairman of the organization.

If you’re interested in getting involved or donating to Tipping Point, visit tippingpoint.org. We’ve also placed a link on our website, careercurves.com.

Finally, please tell your friends, family and everyone else you know about the Career Curves podcast. If you share on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram be sure to tag us. You have no idea how happy this makes us.

That’s it for this episode. As always, thanks for listening.