December 09, 2020

Six Reflections with Greg Warnock

Co-Founder of the Community Foundation of Utah 

Co-Founder and Managing Director of Mercato Partners

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

My earliest training came from my parents, who were philanthropic with both their time and money. Also, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, tithing cultivated the importance of setting resources aside for others.

As I grew in my career, I became concerned about, and focused on, the disparity between those leading middle-upper income lives and those who were not. In my experience, timing and luck had a lot to do with where someone ended up along the wealth spectrum. 

This reinforced my belief that those of us who succeeded should give back to those who did not. 

"I became concerned about, and focused on, the disparity between those leading middle-upper income lives and those who were not."

Why did you decide to start the Community Foundation of Utah? 

Back in the mid-2000’s, I began exploring the concept of double-bottom line investing with Fraser Nelson. We talked about this for a year and began studying best-practices across the country. Our research brought us to the concept of a Community Foundation and the realization that Utah was one of the few places not served by a thriving community foundation.  

We decided we were the team to change that. We just went after it. 

Thankfully, it was pretty straightforward to get other donors and partners involved. The timing was right and things fell into place. 

How do you view the relationship between entrepreneurship and philanthropy?   

The classic view is that entrepreneurs give back at the end of the business lifecycle. This can lead to delayed action. I like to ask: “What can we do today?”  

I like to think there is a strong reciprocal relationship between entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Nonprofits have a strong understanding of community needs and social issues, as well as what solutions have and haven’t worked well in the past.

In the other direction, entrepreneurs are very impatient and focused on creating effective solutions. They have energy, drive, creativity and a relentless focus on results. This creates a great partnership. 

Could you share a local social enterprise or nonprofit doing exceptional work that is perhaps off many donor’s radar? 

I’m a big fan of the Otherside Academy. They are very entrepreneurial, coloring outside the lines. 

On the funder side of the equation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is championing some very courageous work, truly pushing for civilization-level change. Melinda Gates recently published The Moment of Lift, an exceptional book that I would highly recommend. 

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

No. The risk tolerance in philanthropy is generally much too low. A similar risk aversion exists among nonprofits. Organizations are often too worried about their own survival, as opposed to making big moves. I don’t see enough courage in the nonprofit sector. 

Younger entrepreneurs want to invest in brave things. A message of survival does not resonate with them. My hope is the sector develops a stronger results mindset as opposed to a survival mindset. 

"The risk tolerance in philanthropy is generally much too low."

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

Again, success is about results, not survival. I hope to see some version of impact. How that is defined changes program by program. A focus on results implies a measure of on-going accountability. Strong accountability is a prerequisite for success in my book.