Reflections on Philanthropy is Good Strategy…

By John Guastaferro, CFRE

OC AiP featured Mark Thomas as the speaker at our lunchtime program at the Center Club on February 25, 2018. Mark shared wisdom from his 33 years of developing a client-base at KPMG and important stories of working numerous top-tier clients. The program was sponsored by Brown & Streza, LLC.

Mark framed his message around three categories: People and places; work and mission; and complexity.

People and Places

Mark Thomas’ journey has led him to work with such notable clients as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, and World Vision International. Thomas described conversations that stemmed from the boardroom to the public. These were more than just clients; they were partners. In this respect, relationships are key in truly understanding the donor intention, the compelling need at hand, and the strategic, and often creative, solution.

Work and Mission

Thomas shared extensively of his interactions with Bill Gates, particularly in how work and mission come together. For example, Gates insured donated dollars to give donors the guarantee that donations would be directed and allocated as intended. On a personal level, Thomas also shared how he connected his own family to mission by directly volunteering to help those in poverty.


Thomas also shared some of the more complex and creative solutions to address causes. Examples include:

  • Investing the corpus of your endowment in companies aligned to your cause. This creates a “twofer” of growing your endowment while supporting a cause important to you.
  • He shared a solution regarding an important HIV drug. Bill Gates guaranteed covering the cost of a large volume production run. Not only did this keep production cost down and ensure an ROI for the pharmaceutical company, it resulted in a very reasonable cost to patients of $75 per year.
  • Other examples included strategic purchases of technology that later appreciate in stock, such as from $5 million to $85 million; or offering interest-free loans to companies based on meeting impact milestones.

“The beauty of philanthropy is its mind-blowing diversity.”

– Bill Gates