A native San Franciscan, Daniel Lurie has witnessed his hometown change as two tech bubbles inflated, introducing “tremendous wealth” and sometimes crowding out those living, by contrast, in “tremendous poverty.” The son of Brian Lurie, a rabbi and head of the Jewish Community Foundation for 17 years, and stepson of Peter Haas, one-time head of Levi’s and renowned gift-giver, Lurie has philanthropy in his blood. In 2005, not yet 30 years old, he co-founded the Tipping Point Community to harness the money swelling the coffers of tech companies and other businesses, distributing more than $100 million directly to the Bay Area’s most effective nonprofits and social enterprises.
Rather than “building institutions” — libraries, universities and hospitals — this new generation of donors wants to see their charity have a measurable impact. As a result, their methods and tools have improved. NationSwell spoke with the man who’s educating members of the Bay Area about how to best share their riches.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
I live by the motto that you hire the best people. You surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, that hire people that are incredibly competent and you let them run. No one can do this work alone.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Between the World and Me” [by Ta-Nehisi Coates]. We’ve talking a lot about race and class and power here at Tipping Point, and I think there’s probably no more important book out there than that one.
What innovations in your field are you most excited about right now?
In our T Lab program, we’re providing funding to high-performing, established organizations for research and development, which is definitely something new for our sector.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started the Tipping Point Community?
That my job would never be over. I mean, I knew it, but what’s great is that it’s also what’s needed to be inspired each and every day. We live at this nexus of great wealth and privilege here in the Bay Area as well as great poverty. It can be daunting, the chasm, but when you get to meet people who are wealthy and are really committed to these issues, that gets you fired up. And when you get to meet executive directors or clients on the ground doing the hard work every day, that also gets you fired up, despite the fact that the numbers are still overwhelming for those who live in poverty. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but it’s also easy to get inspired.
Who is the most inspirational person you’ve encountered?
The first one that comes to mind is Martha Ryan, who runs the Homeless Prenatal Program. She’s been doing this work for 27 years, and she’s always evolving and innovating. She’s tireless. She always humbles me. Homelessness is an extraordinary tough issue. It’s obviously top of mind for everybody, and here’s a woman who’s been tackling it for almost three decades. She’s still going strong and more committed than ever.
How do you try to communicate that inspiration to others?
I don’t think it’s that hard at our organization. We hire great people that are committed to our mission. I think they understand the daunting task that our partner organizations — 45 groups — are working on each and every day. Knowing that we are supporting such excellent work and such difficult work, I think, motivates our staff. And when they do get daunted, overwhelmed and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, I can always point them to a Martha Ryan or Sam Cobbs at First Place for Youth who always gives us hope and always can tell us a story of success.
Last year, our groups at Tipping Point, we moved 22,000 people out of poverty concretely. That’s an amazing number, and one that, if we have a rough day, we can point to. It’s pretty easy to look around our portfolio of organizations and find inspiration.
What’s your biggest need right now?
We need people not to turn away from the problems of our time. In the Bay Area right now, I’d say it’s homelessness. I’m into three decades of seeing this problem in San Francisco, and I’m seeing more mentally ill living on the streets and encampments and tent cities popping up. We’re seeing our brothers and sisters and children not only living on the streets, but dying on the streets. We just had a police shooting of a homeless man here in the Mission District, and we had a homeless guy stab a California Highway Patrol officer the week of Super Bowl under an overpass. It’s not safe any longer — not only for people walking down the street, but it’s also not safe for those that are homeless. It’s not okay for us to treat our brothers and sisters this way. It’s not humane. And this isn’t just San Francisco: it’s New York, Seattle, L.A., Dallas.
It feels intractable, and I would just say it’s not. I’m not saying we can solve it overnight, but if we have the political will and we use our various resources at our disposal, then change can happen. I would ask people to get engaged. It’s pretty easy to give up and throw your hands in the air and say, “This problem is too big. It’s unsolvable.” The more people that believe that we can change this, the more likely it is that we do.
What don’t most people know about you that they should?
I don’t like to sit around strategizing and planning for very long. I’d rather try something and fail than plan something for a long time. I’m probably oriented towards action, rather than planning.
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This interview has been edited and condensed.
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