Capitalism and Philanthropy
Phillip Fisher’s Mission Throttle is breaking new ground in the world of giving.
Phillip Wm. Fisher is a young 61. A man on a mission, he wants to accelerate the pace of philanthropy. He believes there is a better way — and it’s coming soon.
That’s why he created Mission Throttle.
“I picture my organization as sitting on a surfboard, looking at the beach with this big wave of philanthropic change at our backs,” he says. “We want to be a leader of that evolution.”
Phillip is the son of Max and Marjorie Fisher. He worked with his father for 25 years as CEO of the Fisher Group, doing the underwriting and due diligence for the investment opportunities that came their way.
“When my father passed, I had one of those times when you try to figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life,” he says. “I’m a capitalist. I believe that free cash flow creates sustainable operations, but I’m very philanthropic. We’re in this world to help others. So I thought about devoting my life’s work to the intersection between capitalism and philanthropy. That’s where my heart and head are.”
Mission Throttle began in 2009 to develop business tools and to brainstorm ways of creating systematic and positive change to speed the pace of assistance to underserved populations. It is an L3C, a low-profit limited liability company, a relatively new legal structure adopted by 14 states that allows operations dedicated to social change to make a small nominal profit as long as their primary focus is on social impact.
The company is currently focused on three concepts, beginning with collaborative business outsourcing.
“This was born from my experience with the Family Service Alliance that combined four agencies originally, three now — Oakland, Macomb and Starfish Family Services — which came together to purchase an IT platform,” Fisher says. “They each have the same kind of reporting requirements. We were able to save $270,000 by sharing a platform. Starfish took its savings and hired a new program officer, increasing its capacity to serve more people.”
The second area of focus is social investing.
“In philanthropy, we historically have used only grants to stimulate capital flow. In 2009, $308 billion was granted to organizations in our country,” Fisher says. “Now we’re seeing the advent of mission-related investing that has the potential to greatly expand the amount of capital dedicated to philanthropy.”
Mission Throttle’s third area of focus is Web-based solutions, which taps into the popularity of social media, encouraging and enabling people to go online to stimulate contributions from other investors.
Among Mission Throttle’s contributions has been to provide funding to another Michigan-based L3C company, ardentCause, which is dedicated to strengthening philanthropic agencies through better use of technology. The company has deployed a cloud-based software solution at more than 70 agencies in the past year to help them more efficiently build capacity and fulfill their missions.
“We are a for-profit company with a nonprofit soul,” says Kathleen Norton-Schock of ardentCause, which employs 11 software developers and business development professionals. The Mission Throttle investment is helping ardentCause add even more functionality to its CauseEffectz software solution.
Social Impact Bonds
Mission Throttle also is supporting Third Sector Capital Partners, a national group taking a leadership role with a new financial instrument called the social impact bond. The concept was formed in Peterborough in the United Kingdom to address a serious issue: 78 percent of released prisoners were returning because of a lack of support systems.
“If you think about the social cost of that, it’s huge,” Fisher says. “A social impact bond was created to enable investors to contribute capital to solve the problem.”
The new funding developed low-income housing, job retraining and other social services to help released prisoners get recommitted to the community. The result: re-entry rates dropped to 38 percent, and investors were given a return on their investment drawn from the shared savings to society.
“It’s a fascinating, new and very complex financial structure, and now the social impact bond movement in the United States is growing very quickly,” Fisher says. “We’ve been talking to the state government about a social impact bond in Michigan.”
Mission Throttle also has invested in a University of Indiana School of Philanthropy program to create metrics for mission-related investing and to create a user guide for foundations interested in pursuing the option as a way to increase philanthropic support.
“We think in three to five years our concepts will be validated and more people will be using these platforms and will understand that there is a different and better way of creating social change,” Fisher says. “It’s my life aspiration.”
Mission Throttle has a staff of three, including Fisher.
“But we work on the shoulders of incredible pioneers like Kellogg, Kresge and our foundation to move philanthropy forward. We’re working with 50 to 100 other organizations,” he adds.
“Our family has a great responsibility that my father has bestowed on us to not just make an impact through the Fisher Foundation, but to literally change the world based on what he started. He was a giant in philanthropy, and I aspire to keep his memory alive because I really believe that a man doesn’t pass away until his memory does. He did so many wonderful things for the community — Jewish, political and financial. I’m blessed to be his son and a member of a wonderful family.”
Fisher and his wife, Lauren, have five children, ages 13 to 27. The next generation of the Fisher family is already engaged in philanthropy through the family foundation.
“The foundation staff has been wonderful in integrating their passions about philanthropy, which sometimes are not the same as ours, but they are an important part of our work,” Fisher says. “We had a next-gen retreat last August, where the whole family got together at the Jewish Community Center and the Federation offices and talked about what mother and dad, as founders, expected of us. I expect my children to be very beneficial to others in philanthropy, and they’re doing great.
“I certainly couldn’t do any of this without my mother and four sisters, who are also doing incredible philanthropic work,” Fisher says. “And please give full credit to the Max M. and Marjorie Fisher Foundation, and the staff led by Doug Stewart, who is a partner in everything I do. He’s an amazing man who has made a great impact.”
For more on the Fisher Foundation, visit www. mmfisher.org.