December 10, 2020

Six Reflections with Jeff and Carol Stowell

Jeff Stowell - Managing Director, Royal Street Ventures

Carol Stowell - Student of Nursing  

What life experiences shaped where, how, and why you give? 

Jeff: A big theme for both of us is education. We were fortunate enough to receive a lot of financial help through our respective higher education journeys, allowing each of us to get two degrees and come out debt free. This created a great deal of safety and security and allowed us to take risks. I started a business at 23 when I was still in law school because someone else was paying for my tuition. Now, we are in a position to provide that to others.

"A big theme for both of us is education."


Carol: As a specific example, I’m currently in nursing school and a third of the students are not financially secure. We’ve been helping to expand the Hardship Fund at the University of Utah’s School of Nursing for students who need support to keep them in school. It is critical they stay in school, not only for their own future but because Utah needs at least 9,000 new nurses in the next ten years.

Who do you admire most in the philanthropic sector?  

Carol: My family has a long history of philanthropy. My great-great grandfather was Julius Rosenwald.  He was the President and CEO of Sears (he bought out Roebuck) and invented the Sears catalog.

Using the power of the Sears supply chain, he built 5,000 schools for black children in the South before schools were integrated. These have become known as Rosenwald Schools. Oprah went to one. He literally sent down the materials for the schools through the Sears catalog. 

Jeff: My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. That job is nothing but giving and forms the way I think about how one gives of both talent and treasure. There are a number of people across the country doing really interesting things. Bill Gates takes these great big swings at problems, with the intent to eradicate them, which is rare. Traditionally, donors are trained in the ways of preservation. Foundations are structured this way; to persevere perpetually.

Personally, I believe in a different approach. Raise capital, deploy it, and fix the problem. We often build infrastructure and we expect it to stick around. Instead, we need to get rid of the thing that requires the infrastructure, and then move on.

"Raise capital, deploy it, and fix the problem."

Do you believe there is a high enough tolerance for risk in philanthropy?   

Jeff: There is not nearly enough tolerance for risk. Not even close. We tiptoe up to problems. Donors don’t support risk, which is odd, since most of these donors made their money by taking outsized risk in their careers.

What are your thoughts about funding operations and overhead?  

Jeff: We must fund operations and overhead. It is the machine that solves problems. Then, you must tear that machine down once it has solved the problem it was set up to address and build a better machine designed to solve the next set of problems.

What organizations or other educational resources would you recommend to donors wanting to dive deeper into philanthropy?

Carol and Jeff: We don’t have to look much further than the traditions established in our own family in the Rosenwald giving story. There’s a movie about it! Also, the Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle is doing very exciting work around social justice and unique ways to hack at the underlying causes of injustice. They are focusing on creating flywheels of change through community skill-building.

How do you define success when it comes to your giving?   

Carol and Jeff: We define success in two ways principally. First, does our gift help create a high likelihood of solving a problem or subset of problems in a relatively short period of time? 

Second, does our gift help change the make-up of who gives and influence people's behavior around giving? This is why we frequently give matching grants.