By Todd Cohen
Joel Fleishman is leaving his job as head of one of the largest – and least known – philanthropies in the U.S.
Fleishman, 66, will remain as president of Atlantic Philanthropic Service Co. in New York until a successor is named — a process that he says could take a year.
The North Carolina native and long-time Duke University fundraiser will continue to work with APS on a consulting basis once a successor is named.
He also will continue to teach his class on philanthropy, voluntarism and not-for-profit law and management at Duke, where he is a professor of law and public policy studies and director of the Heyman Center for Ethics, Public Policy and the Professions.
“I’ve got too much to do and don’t have enough time to do it,” he says. “I want to do more teaching and writing.”
APS is a for-profit consulting firm that serves as the staff for two Bermuda foundations created by Charles F. Feeney, who made a fortune from a chain of duty-free airport shops.
The two foundations give their money away anonymously, and little is known about their operation.
Three years ago, however, as a result of the sale of his chain, Feeney disclosed details of his philanthropy.
The two foundations had assets of more than $3.5 billion and in the previous 15 years had given away more than $600 million.
Until those disclosures, recipients of grants had not known the identity of the donors.
Fleishman, who commutes weekly between New York City and North Carolina, says he has not made any other specific plans for the future.
“I want time to think, breathe and get my priorities clear before I make any commitments,” he says. “My main sense of the last two of three years is that I have not had time to breathe, much less think.”
Fleishman has had a long and varied career.
He was legal assistant to then-Gov.Terry Sanford, who was elected in 1960. He later taught law at Yale, where he met law students Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, with whom he has remained friends
In 1971, he went to work for Duke on the invitation of Sanford, who had been named the school’s president in 1969.
For 22 years, Fleishman worked at Duke as a professor, administrator and fundraiser. He headed the school’s capital campaign for the arts and sciences and engineering, raising $221 million, and built the university’s endowment from $175 million to $700 million.
He was so focused on fundraising, he has said, that he couldn’t invite colleagues to dinner without raising suspicions that all he really wanted was to ask for money.
But in the past seven years at APS, he says, he has concluded that giving away money can be a lot harder to asking for it.
“The problem is, how do you establish boundaries for explorations for appropriate grantmaking,” he says. “And once you’ve established boundary lines for areas or projects, then you have to identify the best organizations or leaders or individuals working in the field. It takes an enormous amount of time to gather information and make judgments.”
Tom Lambeth, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem and long-time friend, says Fleishman’s biggest impact has been his influence on other nonprofit, foundation, corporate and government leaders –in North Carolina, throughout the U.S. and abroad.
“He is a counselor to a number so vast it’s almost staggering,” said Lambeth, who also worked as an aide to then-Gov. Sanford. “I cannot remember a time in the last 30 years when I have not known somebody in the White House who did not consider Joel their mentor. Now it’s a president who has looked to him for counsel.”
Lambeth added: “He is the most intelligent person I have ever known, and his concern about his fellow human beings is just extraordinary.”