I am the co-founder and executive director of The Good People Fund where I discover, mentor and financially support grassroots organizations that respond in creative ways to society’s most intractable problems.
Together we focus on board development, fundraising, staffing, administration and more; all critical to the success of any organization. I challenge them to think realistically about how best to implement this growth.
I was professionally trained to be a high school U.S. history teacher, but I spent only a few years in that role before becoming a mom. I also worked as a plant doctor, used my love of cooking as a caterer, my needlework skills to build a needlepoint business and revived a tired family business selling men’s and boys’ clothing. Somehow, entrepreneurial opportunities always seemed to find their way to me.
My quest for meaning following a cancer diagnosis in 1991 led me to read books by Danny Siegel, a Jewish writer and founder of a small fund that supported small grassroots programs led by inspiring people. I was captivated by his philosophy about how we can each use our talents to make a difference and my second career calling became clear. In 1994, I became Siegel’s intern and eventually moved to full-time Managing Director.
When his nonprofit was no longer in operation, I could have retired at the age of 62 but, instead, saw a rebirth opportunity. With so many small organizations counting on us for support and so many donors excited about our focus, I decided to start over and brought together several people who believed in me and this work. Under my leadership, we formed a new nonprofit and began The Good People Fund in 2008.
The grantees I work with have all decided to dedicate themselves to a specific problem. One such organization/grantee is Unchained At Last, which provides support for women leaving arranged and forced marriages. Fraidy Reiss founded the organization in 2012 to help other women like herself. I knew this organization needed support both professionally and financially; it addresses a serious issue previously ignored in our culture. Today it has grown to be the only nonprofit in the US dedicated to both helping women rebuild their lives, and promoting social and policy change to prevent forced marriage.
Reiss explains the impact GPF has had over the years this way: “They have never just handed over the check. Naomi became a trusted adviser and mentor, helping me to figure out when and how to start hiring other staffers, how to reign in a board gone wild, and which items to prioritize on a tight budget.”
Now that I myself have become that “older worker,” I can see even more clearly that nothing can replace experience and the wisdom that comes with it. How sad it is that we live in a culture which worships youth. How much better our world would be if we would embrace the contributions and experience of older workers. I have learned that with age I am more comfortable being forthright in my interpersonal relationships and more willing to share what life has already taught me. It is at once liberating and joyful!