Q&A with Lisa Johnson

The Minneapolis Foundation talked recently with Lisa Johnson, a client advisor at Bernstein and the grantmaking chair of Fourth Generation. Johnson explained why she makes a point of talking to her clients about philanthropy, and how joining Fourth Gen helped her expand her professional network.

Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson

Foundation: How did you first get connected with Fourth Generation?

Lisa: I grew up in St. Paul and moved to Chicago to go to college. When I graduated, I stayed another five and a half years working at my firm’s Chicago office. In 2012, I got an opportunity to take an advisor position in either Chicago or Minneapolis. I love Chicago, but I knew that, ultimately, the Twin Cities was home. When I moved back, I was looking for ways to reconnect with the community. I found Fourth Generation as I researched organizations that I might want to get involved with, and I came out for the group’s fall kickoff event. I think I wrote a check and signed up on the spot—which is not something you have to do, but I was really excited to join!

Foundation: How would you explain Fourth Generation to someone who’s interested in getting involved? The group’s members get together to learn about community issues and make grants to local nonprofits—but why join Fourth Gen instead of donating to a nonprofit on your own?

Lisa: One benefit is the ability to have a bigger impact than you could on your own. I wouldn’t go out today and write a $20,000 check to an organization, but by pooling my resources with those of everyone in the group, as well as with the money that we get from matching grants and our annual fundraising event, Graze 4 Good, we’re able to do much more than we could by ourselves. Learning about a community issue in depth over the course of a year is also beneficial. And it’s a great place to connect with peers. I have gotten to know a couple of trust and estate attorneys in the group really well. Their firms and mine share some of the same clients, so there are opportunities for us to work together even outside of Fourth Generation. And there are other Fourth Gen members that I’ve gotten to be friends with, or that I look forward to seeing every month. It’s just a neat group of people.

Foundation: What’s one rewarding experience you’ve had with Fourth Gen?

Lisa: I think our Give 4 Good event in May, which is where we actually hand over checks, is probably one of the most rewarding because it’s the culmination of the whole year’s work. Usually, each nonprofit that we fund will send a staff member to the event, but sometimes they’ll also send someone who has benefited from their services. My first year, when we funded groups that provide resources for immigrant populations, one man came and spoke about his life journey—how difficult his transition was to the U.S., and how the nonprofit we supported was able to help him integrate and get to a point where he was self-sufficient and felt really great in his new home.

Foundation: How much do you talk about philanthropy with your clients, and how does your involvement with Fourth Generation inform your work?

Lisa: I work as an advisor for the private client division of my firm. My clients are mostly high-net-worth individuals and families, trusts and estates, small and medium foundations, and some individual business owners. I consult primarily on investment strategy, but if I’m helping a client decide how to invest their assets, it often makes sense to understand if, in addition to other financial goals, they have charitable intent. Questions like, “Are you giving to charity?” or “Do you have a donor advised fund, family foundation, or any charitable trusts?” are often quite relevant. We can do comprehensive planning to include charitable vehicles among other goals, as appropriate.

In terms of how Fourth Generation informs my work, I think it just makes me more aware of the value of having those conversations. There’s interesting research that shows that the number of times that advisors think they’re asking clients about philanthropy is not the same as what clients report. Clients actually say that they’d like their advisors to talk about it more. I think that’s an opportunity. Even if you’re not having a direct conversation about philanthropy, you can ask in a meeting with a client, “Are there organizations you’re excited about, or that you volunteer with?” I think it helps build relationships with people to talk about things that matter to them.

Foundation: What do you think we should be doing to help prepare the next generation to carry on Minnesota’s tradition of generosity?

Lisa: I feel like there’s a real commitment at the Foundation to the future, and to thinking about what the community will look like down the road. I think that training tools and programs like Fourth Generation will continue to be important. And I think it will be important to engage younger to mid-career people to take on leadership roles, even if older generations are staying in them longer. There’s just a lot of two-way learning that can happen when you bring generations together.

Foundation: To celebrate our 100th anniversary, we’ve been asking people to make a wish for the future of Minneapolis. What’s your wish?

Lisa: I hope the Twin Cities continues to be a place where people who grow up here and then leave have a reason to want to come back. I really do think the Twin Cities is the best of both worlds. It has the arts and culture of a bigger city, but the navigability and personality of a smaller town.