Look for inspiration everywhere. Execution is easier to learn than inspiration. The magic and spark for your work can come from many places, but first you need to be attentive to it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Hansen. Rob has over 20 years of experience in philanthropy, working at all levels of nonprofits and having served on numerous nonprofit boards. As a development director, Rob raised funds from leading New York City foundations and ultimately joined the Robin Hood Foundation, where he worked for five years. At Robin Hood he came to understand the power of engaged philanthropy and the importance of measurable impact. Prior to launching Goodnation, Rob consulted with high-performing nonprofits on fund development and strategic planning issues. Rob has an MBA from HEC Montréal and a B.A. in English Literature from McGill University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been involved in causes or philanthropy projects and I learned very early on money is required to get anything done. My first fundraising effort was for the high school Amnesty International chapter I founded. We needed funds to buy stamps to send the letters our group was writing to dictators around the world (asking them to stop torturing political prisoners). A great use of a stamp at the time. I realized I could sell donuts to hungry high school students to raise funds, so I convinced my teachers to let me out just before lunch to go to the local Tim Hortons to buy dozens of donuts to sell. Each donut was a stamp. That got me on the fundraising path and since then, I’ve been engaged in finding resources to expand programs to help people. My donut sales are no longer as impressive though.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Goodnation got started in 2017 with a single introduction. A friend heard about my plans for Goodnation — to connect donors with high performing nonprofits that reflect their values and interests — and suggested I be in touch with his parents as they had just retired and wanted to start to give back with greater purpose. I sent them a set of questions to understand their philanthropic goals and took a risk by asking them how much they would give.
Well, their answer — really their generosity — floored me. It was an incredible sum and we were able to put it to work helping people in our first 10 high performing charities. It made me realize the desire to give is incredibly strong in our country and we need to do a better job of connecting the dots between the desire to give, people’s passions and powerful work on the ground.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Do you know the quote from the play Death of Salesman about being “out there, in the blue riding on a shoe shine and a smile”? When I was first working at a major institution, I had a very important meeting with a big donor and I was being shadowed by my supervisor during the meeting. I thought the meeting went great, that I engaged the donor in a deep conversation and had effectively communicated the power of our work and the ability of that donor to make a real difference through her gift. As we left the building, I asked my supervisor for feedback and he stopped, looked at me, then down at my shoes, and said “decent meeting but your shoes need to be shined”
We got the gift, so I learned to never shine my shoes and to stay focused on purpose and passion — less than fashion. I almost made the mistake of worrying too much about my appearance.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Our communities are facing incredible challenges — from hunger and homelessness, to lack of education and job opportunities. And there are thousands of lesser-known organizations quietly making a difference every day. At Goodnation, we grow giving by helping donors create and execute meaningful and purposeful giving plans that bring resources to the front lines and tackle our greatest challenges. We do this in partnership with donors and more than 500 charities across 30 cause areas to create deep and abiding connections and commitments to create positive change. The power of the Goodnation online platform, combined with the personal service of a philanthropy advisor, makes it easy and rewarding for donors to find and fund what matters to them.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
Anthony was moving from low-paying job to low-paying job, earning about 12,000 dollars annually, and struggled with homelessness. He had an interest and aptitude for computers. A Goodnation donor funded his participation in Pursuit, an intensive training program on the Goodnation platform that trains adults with the most need and potential to get their first tech jobs. This transformed his life; he was hired at Dow Jones as a software engineer, moved into his own apartment and began paying off his debts. Pursuit helped break down barriers and open up new opportunities. We’re hoping soon, he’ll become a Goodnation donor to complete the cycle.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
First: we, as a country, can simply choose to give more. Americans agree that charitable giving is an impactful way to help others in need; however, although most Americans feel they should be donating 6% of their annual salary, they only end up donating 3% on average, and many gifts are reactive, not proactive. If we all gave as much as we think we should, we would double the amount given annually to over 800 billion dollars. A lot of good can be accomplished with an additional 400 billion dollars.
Second: politicians can implement policies that will encourage people to give more overall, rather than doing the opposite, such as making deductions for taxable giving available to everyone.
Third: there should be distinctions made within the vast sea of 501(c)(3) organizations that qualify for a tax deduction, so more dollars are directed towards organizations working with those most in need in our country. One way to do this is to create a tax structure that incentivizes people to give towards social good that directly impacts those in high need, such as quality education for low-income students.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I’m still learning, but leadership is a potent combination of vision — seeing what others can’t yet see — and action — the ability to move people towards that new future. A leader can paint a clear and compelling picture that wakes people up while remaining grounded enough to give people a first step they can take towards it. Ideally, that vision and action is grounded in positivity, not fear.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example.
- You will fail. I used to be so concerned about failing I would never take a risk. Starting Goodnation has taught me to really progress, you need to be testing new ideas — experiment, fail, adjust and hopefully you will get better.
- You can’t do everything well so find people who complement your strengths. This was shared by an early mentor who built an incredible organization and her advice has been working for me ever since.
- You don’t know where your next risk will take you, but action creates opportunity. Sometimes we just need to take the first step for avenues to open.
- Look for inspiration everywhere. Execution is easier to learn than inspiration. The magic and spark for your work can come from many places, but first you need to be attentive to it.
- Read a lot. Learn about other people, their lives, challenges and ideas. Even if it’s not immediately applicable to your work, it will make you a better human being, which in turn will make you better at whatever you do.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to see everyone pledge a meaningful amount of their resources towards the common good. Somehow we all have the resources to buy the next new thing or experience. What if giving was so important to us that we prioritized it? It would be the opposite of the tragedy of the commons, we’d all participate in and benefit from improving our country.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My current favorite is: “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” which either Peter Drucker and/or Abraham Lincoln said. Goodnation’s office is fortunate to be located in the Centre for Social Innovation in New York where the quote is inscribed on a huge wall.
The quote is a constant reminder for my team that we are aiming to rise above, and counter, some of the more dire predictions for our country by providing a positive path through giving. And personally, it keeps me going, knowing it’s possible to envision, and create something better.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Bill Gates. I read recently he is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his philanthropic life, which began when he stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft to focus on giving. What if all the Fortune 500 CEOs chose to do the same? Or anyone from any background who has achieved a level of success. He’s a model so many more people should follow — focus on giving your wealth, rather than growing it.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!