Susan Butler Plum: Why I Give

I am the founding director of the Skadden Fellowships. Every year, we make grants for 25 beginning attorneys to provide civil legal services to the poor. We had a theory when we started that if we gave lawyers an opportunity to do public interest work early in their careers, they’d never want to do anything else.

A fundraising truism is that people give to people. And I just have to say that I really believe in the vision and leadership of North Star Fund’s executive director Hugh Hogan. If I could work full-time as a volunteer at North Star, I would. Part of having a clear vision is knowing what’s behind you as well as what’s in front of you, and Hugh has insisted that North Star must continue to play its traditional role as a first funder to new groups. That’s what I call incubation work, and it’s the most interesting to me - supporting the start-ups. For instance, I love the Metropolitan Museum and I love to go there, but they don’t need me.

The Skadden Fellows program is almost 23 years old. Our theory that young lawyers who were supported to do public interest law would keep doing it has proven true beyond our wildest dreams. Ninety percent of our graduates stay in the public interest. So what we’re really doing is funding people’s passion.

My own passion is philanthropy. My father was a lawyer and he did an enormous amount of pro bono work—so much that he was almost never home. He died when I was a child, but I grew up hearing these stories, and I was brought up to believe in the dictum that ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ In short, money was made to be given away.  So I never thought about making money.  All I ever thought of was: How can I give more away?  By running a foundation, I could give money both personally and professionally.

The work of the Skadden Fellows meshes perfectly with that of North Star Fund. The Skadden Fellows do a lot of community organizing and technical assistance. They have to do outreach in difficult, hard-to-reach places. Some of their clients are trafficked into this country, then hidden and exploited in underground sweatshops. So community organizing and ‘community lawyer-ing’ go hand-in-hand.  Several Skadden Fellows, have in fact started, or gone to work for groups that have been supported by North Star Fund, including Andrew Friedman at Make the Road NY, and Steve Choi at the MinKwon Center. And Maddy Delone, who is the executive director of the Innocence Project and a former Skadden Fellow, has served on North Star Fund’s board of directors. I also understand that Maddy and her husband, Bobby Cohen, are among North Star Fund’s earliest and most steadfast donors.

But groups that have received their first foundation funding from North Star Fund, such as WORTH and Brandworkers International, need North Star Fund. And North Star Fund needs people like me and you to support it.


tags: Donor Voices
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