Barbara Fleischman is a professional volunteer and philanthropist who is currently a trustee for the New York Public Library, The Frick Collection and the Juilliard School. Barbara is Board Chair Emerita for the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, founded by her husband Lawrence A. Fleischman and considered the world’s preeminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America. Barbara has shared her experience as a philanthropic leader in a guide she wrote on board service, “A Primer for Trustees.”
Buff Kavelman founded The Kavelman Group Philanthropic Advisors (TKG) to provide management consulting and capacity-building services to funders and philanthropic leaders. TKG clients include individual donors, foundations and nonprofit organizations. They range from grassroots organizations to small family foundations and established institutions with years of global impact spanning 33 countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. With over 25 years of experience in the philanthropic world as a funder, board member and a non-profit executive, Buff has a uniquely balanced perspective on organizational development.
Buff: I know you are a leading board member and philanthropist and you take that very seriously. I would see these roles as your occupation or vocation, do you see it that way?
Barbara: I want to call myself a professional volunteer because I have been a volunteer all my life.
Buff: What is your current preoccupation?
Barbara: Helping good people who are trying to serve our government. I am concerned with dangers within and find the damning information regarding January 6th very frightening. Any organization that is helping to change this is something that interests me.
Buff: Do you view American Promise in that light? How do you connect these concerns with our mission?
Barbara: Your main goal of taking money out of politics is extremely important to me. It has become all about money. Our culture has become that way. Our politics have become that way. We have to change that.
Buff: I couldn’t agree more. One reason I became involved originally is that almost every major issue where we have a roadblock in this country is a problem because of money in politics. Now it is reaching a crisis.
Barbara: There are so many gifted, wonderful, creative people who don’t have major money to direct to a cause and we are losing that talent in this country. There can be an entitlement from these large gifts.
Buff: What living person do you most admire? Who is upholding the kinds of standards you like to see?
Barbara: Bill Moyers; Damian Woetzel, President of Juilliard; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York; Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation; Senator Patrick Leahy; Congressman Andy Levin; Congressman Jamie Raskin; President Biden; and Vice President Kamala Harris. All are struggling through this cancerous thing – I lived through McCarthy and Nixon and I never could have imagined what we are living through now.
Buff: Who is a historic figure you most admire?
Barbara: Abraham Lincoln; Harry Truman; FDR; and Barack Obama. All of these people made mistakes because they are human. They were intentional with a strong inner core and their sense of morality was so pungent that one could forgive their mistakes. They cared about something besides themselves.
Buff: So beautiful, I love that observation.
Barbara: We are immersed in this thing of personal power and wealth. That is why your organization appeals to me. What you are trying to do is pull the rug out from under this so money is not the answer.
Buff: What drew you to get involved with American Promise?
Barbara: Bill Moyers told me about American Promise and I could see that it was a tough road but it is so important. American Promise has to bring integrity back into the political world.
Buff: That is a cross-partisan message.
Barbara: I always admired elected officials regardless of party affiliation because they were statesmen. I did not agree with them on everything, but I always knew that I could depend on them to take the party first.
Buff: It is essential that American Promise is cross-partisan. What are some of the ways American Promise can attract the broadest possible political representation?
Barbara: Irrespective of party affiliation, all American Promise wants is dignity, honor and honesty back in the political system. We (AP) don’t care about your party. If you care about the country and want it to succeed, you can be with American Promise, its arms are open to all people.
American Promise is not just about money in politics. It is about educating young people to be good citizens and good representatives in our country. It is about reframing the political system and making it healthier.
Buff: You spoke up to identify American Promise’s need to build a more representative organization and provided advice and helpful connections, and since then we have been able to expand our team and volunteer leadership. Just like we have better ideas when we are cross-partisan, we have better ideas when we are diverse.
Barbara: People have to feel welcome. You get a broader understanding and better ideas by getting people with diverse perspectives and different points of view.
Buff: You are a real inspiration. When I am 97 I hope I have your energy and dedication to the world.
Barbara: I believe each day is a gift.