Naomi Eisenberger – Executive Director of the Good People Fund

Set aside a quiet time, a quiet place and perhaps some good music and just think — let your mind wander. Some of my best insights come from this far too infrequent habit.

Over the past 25 years, Naomi Eisenberger has provided management guidance and support to hundreds of individuals and nonprofits, to help them grow their great work, successfully build their infrastructure and increase their donor base. As the Managing Director of the Ziv Tzedakah Fund for more than 10 years, she was instrumental in working closely with its founder to guide its expansion and growth. In 2008, she co-founded and now serves as the Executive Director of the Good People Fund where, in addition to providing financial support, she also mentors Good People who have found creative ways to help those in need. She identifies visionaries doing great work on a personal scale and connects them with donors seeking meaningful ways to help those in need, with gifts both large and small. In keeping with a philosophy that the majority of donor dollars should be allocated towards programs, the Good People Fund itself maintains a lean operating budget to ensure a large percentage of donations are directed to grantees. The Good People Fund has been a GuideStar Exchange Gold Participant for several years.

Where did the idea for Good People Fund come from?

Prior to 2008, I had been very involved in Danny Siegel’s Ziv Tzedakah Fund where I served as Managing Director for more than ten years. When he decided to retire and opted to close the Fund I, and several others felt that there was still a critical need for the type of giving opportunities and philosophy that that organization represented. The Good People Fund was founded to support small grassroots organizations (many volunteer-run) engaged in repairing the world. At the center of each program is a visionary or Good People who have chosen to dedicate themselves to fixing some societal issue. Each of them can be considered an entrepreneur in their own way. For nearly 5 years I was the Fund’s only full-time employee and my salary (and most of our other overhead) was and is still paid by designated gifts, thus ensuring that donors’ gifts are used to help people in need with very little diverted for administrative overhead.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Because we do so much work in Israel, a seven hour time difference from the East Coast, my day starts very early. The telephone is both my best friend and my worst enemy. It is a time sucker, but I find that the numerous conversations I have with our grantees, mentoring and coaching them, is when my creativity really kicks in. Telling the stories of our Good People to prospective donors, writing in my blog or producing other written materials are energizing activities that make the day fly by.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a unique set of skills I’ve developed throughout my working life which I have brought to the 25 years of interaction with small non-profits. While I was professionally trained to be a high school U.S. history teacher, I spent only a few years in that role before becoming a mom. It was then that my entrepreneurial instincts kicked in as I remained at home to raise two kids. To earn money and also satisfy that creative streak I worked as a plant doctor, used my love of cooking as a caterer, my needlework skills to build a needlepoint business during the height of that particular craze and revived a tired family business selling men’s and boys’ clothing. The grantees I work with all have unique problems and situations that need to be resolved. My business experience coupled with my creativity and love of networking allows me to offer them concrete advice on how best they can develop their work and operate with efficiency and transparency. For most of the programs we work with there is a very strong personal relationship, and we’re with them through the good times and the rough days as well. Our wish is that every program we work with outgrows us and that they can flourish without our funds and support.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Crowdfunding has introduced the concept of giving to a much wider audience; no longer is it only people of considerable wealth who can have an impact. Modest sums of money matter which happens to be a critical piece of our philosophy–small actions, huge impacts .

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Connecting people is a practice I do regularly. I am always thinking how can Person A help Person B? How can they help each other?

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

At one point in my career I worked part-time for a large institutional non-profit. The bureaucracy, the politics, the inability to work creatively were stifling! I knew then that I would always have to “do my own thing” if I was to survive in the work world.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would not recommend launching any new organization that relies on fundraising, at the same time a national financial crisis erupts!. We were all stunned by the events that unfolded in 2008 with the implosion of Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff’s extraordinary fraud. The names still elicit thoughts of a really bad movie from years ago. Those were challenging days to try to solicit donations.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Set aside a quiet time, a quiet place and perhaps some good music and just think — let your mind wander. Some of my best insights come from this far too infrequent habit.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Please explain how. The single most effective way to bring donors to our work is to tell stories about the inspiring visionaries we work with. People can relate to that. When I can show a donor exactly how their gift will change a life I almost always succeed in gaining their support.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

If we consider starting a non-profit an actual business, I would suggest that others begin an organization similar to ours–one that actively seeks Good People doing great work and enlist donors to help them get going. There are untold social needs going unmet today, it doesn’t always have to be a large organization that tackles the problem. Follow your passion.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Running a non-profit organization that helps people in various ways exposes me daily to critical needs that could change a person’s life but for the lack of funds. Recently, a case came to us regarding an elderly woman, living an isolated life in poor health, a sparsely furnished home and minimal income. Her days are spent on a couch watching TV, as getting out of her city apartment is difficult. When I heard that the prospect of having an “easy chair” in which to sit each day brought tears to her eyes I knew that my $100, along with help from others, was money well spent and reminded me once again how modest sums of money can change lives.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

While I often feel like cursing its very existence I would have to say that Salesforce is probably the most helpful tool I use. It allows me to record my conversations with grantees, donors and others and serves as a reminder of what was said/promised. With days as hectic as mine, this is an important tool.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Though read years ago, I have never forgotten the messages transmitted by Tracy Kidder in the book, Mountains Beyond Mountains. Kidder focuses on the inspiring work of Dr. Paul Farmer who uses his medical expertise and humanity to help heal people in remote places and reminds me not only that one person can indeed change the world.but that we all have within us the talents and creativity to do the same in other ways.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I suspect that because I am at a certain age the writings of Dr. Atul Gwande, particularly Being Mortal, resonate deeply for me. I have learned through the very inspiring work that I do just how to have a good life. I believe that it is just as important for us to have a good “end” as well–to leave this earth in a humane, meaningful and thoughtful way. Dr. Bill Thomas has served as an inspiration to me as well. A Harvard-educated geriatrician, Bill has helped change society’s approach to how people live out their later years. And, the antidote to all of this focus on death and aging is no doubt the NY Times’ satirist, Gail Collins. She is the one I go to when I want to laugh about the craziness that we call politics in this country today; she puts it all in perspective and that is a blessing.


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