Talking about money makes most of us uncomfortable. It’s a topic that’s difficult for many, and most individuals or institutions that are looking to invest in a building project are tremendously nervous. The design process, which is often characterized as pure creative expression, can also be looked at as a careful plan for how to best spend the money available to achieve the desired goals. Like our use of water, energy or any other natural resource, money should be conserved and put to use efficiently. Understanding how we can best use resources to create positive results is a big part of our work.
A Fresh Look
I would not have thought to express our process this way had it not been for our recent Friday Morning Coffee conversation with Jamie Forbes, a Partner with Portsmouth’s Opus Advisors. Opus Advisors consults to non-profit institutions that serve the community from the local to global scale. Their objective is to create healthy communities; they do so by supporting institutions in development of strategic priorities, leadership, fund raising campaigns and operational and communications systems.
Within that work, Jamie also focuses on the opposite side of the equation as a Philanthropy Advisor. He realized through personal and professional experience that although many may have the means to give, sometimes it’s hard to know how. Jamie supports families in conversations that help them define values, plan for the transfer of wealth, and create goals for transforming personal passions into positive community impact.
Jamie told us he actually avoids the term “philanthropy” and prefers “giving” because it speaks to the point that everyone can give. Philanthropy seems like the purview of the very wealthy. Giving can be in the form of time, small one-time donations or recurring long-term donations. He shared with us an example of this type of cumulative giving—how what may seem like just a kind gesture can grow into something more significant.
Thought into Action
Several years ago, Jamie and his wife took a family vacation to the Caribbean and brought several books along to entertain their young children. The girls shared their books with local children on the beach and before leaving, asked if they could leave the books with their new friends because they didn’t have any books of their own. This sparked a project of sending books to Dominica regularly, and it culminated in a library for the local elementary school, with shelves built with local labor and filled with books from “fifty 50-gallon drums filled with books” donated by Jamie’s family, friends and members of the Portsmouth community.
This experience was eye-opening for Jamie, who had been considering his legacy and potential for impact in the world. He had “spent a lot of time worrying about whether [he] would ever find [his] calling” and wondering whether it was enough to be a good husband and parent while working in a good but less-than-fulfilling job. The opportunity to become a founding partner with Opus Advisors allowed Jamie to take the marketing and communication skills he had developed and act on his passions. Jamie now says, “in many ways the work that I do through giving is a culmination of all the things that really motivate me and drive me. It’s work that I love to do and am good at.”
Spreading the Impact
The parallels between the work that Jamie and his firm do and our own quickly became apparent in our conversation. We share a focus on building and maintaining a healthy and engaged community. Jamie noted that, “it’s interesting as you talk, from a platform philosophical standpoint there is almost universal overlap…in the way I approach my work.” We also work with many of the same client types—cultural and educational organizations that may be experiencing growing pains as they look toward future planning or expansion. We talked about how the work of Opus Advisors, creating a strong organizational and financial foundation, is so critical to have in place prior to embarking on a construction project. Our projects are most successful when the design has a firm foundation in an organization’s strategic vision.
The interest in community health starting at home was another interesting parallel. We bring the same objective to our residential work—the idea that a well-designed home promotes a healthy, happy family. Similarly, Jamie sees how his work with families has the potential to extend out into the world: “helping families pull together and add connective tissue—and from a more macro standpoint I think that that certainly expands to communities, because if people are happier in their own family, they are going to be better citizens.”
More than just learning about Jamie and his work, our conversation gave us an opportunity to reflect on why we do the work we do. It was a welcome pause in a busy week and energized us for the work ahead. Many thanks to Jamie for an inspiring conversation!