“There are plenty of ways to give. Yes, there is a great need for monetary resources, but there is also a great need for talent. Sitting on a board, volunteering and just offering your wisdom—those are important resources as well.” – Ronald V. Johnson, Jr., Esq.
Ron Johnson wants people to broaden their definition of philanthropy and think differently about what it can accomplish.
“Some people tend to get discouraged because they feel that philanthropy is too big a thing,” he said. “There’s this misconception that if you can’t give enough money to put your name on a building, why bother? But philanthropy is powerful at every level—you can be a grassroots philanthropist.”
Time, talent and treasure
Johnson is committed to dispelling the myth that only grand monetary gifts count as philanthropy. When he talks to others about giving back, he emphasizes that time and talent are also valuable contributions that can create real change in communities.
“There are plenty of ways to give,” he said. “Yes, there is a great need for monetary resources, but there is also a great need for talent. Sitting on a board, volunteering and just offering your wisdom—those are important resources as well.”
Johnson gives generously of his own time, talent and treasure. An attorney by trade, he takes pro-bono cases through Legal Aid in addition to his professional work as senior vice president and associate general counsel for KeyBank Law Group.
“I do feel that there are certain people who have gifts and talents that really are duty-bound to give back,” he said.
As one of those duty-bound individuals, he is also dedicating time and effort as co-chair of this year’s Cleveland Foundation African American Philanthropy Summit. He has been involved with the event since its inception more than a decade ago and is particularly excited about this year’s theme, “2020 Vision: Disrupting the Cultural Landscape Through Philanthropy.”
“The term ‘disruptive’ is often used in a business context, but it’s the same with philanthropy: How can we use our own resources to effectuate change?” Johnson said. “It’s an edgier Summit theme, and we’re trying to get some new voices in the room to talk about philanthropy.”
His own charitable giving is directed toward scholarships, mentoring and other education-related activities designed to transform lives and help put young people on a path to success.
Celebrating giving in the African American community is a key part of building an even stronger philanthropic network, according to Johnson. “People are looking for philanthropic opportunities, and there are certain communities that get overlooked,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to encourage people, to highlight this work and show people different ways to give and get involved.”
Johnson is also keenly aware of the powerful impact many passionate individuals can have when they come together. He has created and participated in a number of Giving Circles, which allow participants to pool their charitable dollars and then decide together where that support goes.
“Giving Circles leverage collective resources and provide opportunities for even greater funding,” Johnson said. “They also build strong, socially conscious networks as members teach and learn from one another.”
After the 2012 African American Philanthropy Summit, Johnson helped establish the Our Hope, Our Future Giving Circle, which supports initiatives that help young people thrive via a fund housed within the Cleveland Foundation. He has also participated in Visions Giving Circle, which brings individual donors and potential grantees together in a forum where grantees present their proposals for consideration and build relationships with potential donors.
The flexibility and team mentality of Giving Circles also make them great vehicles for early philanthropists to begin their journeys and test different models of giving, Johnson said.
“For me, philanthropy really is just the idea of doing more: giving more of your own resources to help the greater community,” he said.