|Executive leaving as Warner Foundation prepares to close office.
By Ret Boney
DURHAM, N.C. [07.06.04] — The professional tennis circuit is not where most philanthropy professionals get their start, but it gave Tony Pipa, executive director of the Warner Foundation, some valuable early training.
“It was my first fundraising gig,” Pipa says of the money he raised from hometown folks to travel the world, with stops such as Zimbabwe, Portugal and Singapore, while pursuing a career as a professional tennis player.
After four years as executive director of the foundation, Pipa will be leaving July 15 to enroll in a master’s program for mid-career professionals in public administration at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The Warner Foundation itself is in the process of closing its offices and eliminating staff, with the board assuming grantmaking responsibilities.
A knee injury forced Pipa out of professional tennis after five years, and into thinking about what to do next.
“I wanted to do something constructive,” says Pipa, “literally and figuratively.”
He volunteered for Mt. Diablo Habitat for Humanity in California and, shortly after writing a successful grant application for the organization, was hired as its first executive director.
Job: Executive Director, Warner Foundation, Durham, N.C.
Born: 1964, Elysburg, Pa.
Education: B.A., English and economics, Duke University
Hobbies: Jazz piano, creative writing
Recently read: “The Feast of Love” by Charles Baxter; “A Ship Made of Paper” by Scott Spencer
Book to recommend: “The Solace of Leaving Early” by Haven Kimmel
Inspiration: Father, a self-described country lawyer; mother, who exhibited personal philanthropy
|During his four years with Habitat, the group increased its staff to seven, quadrupled its budget, increased its assets tenfold and dramatically increased production of houses, according to Pipa.
“We were focused on one issue and I began to see more issues that were involved in families’ lives,” Pipa says of his decision to leave Habitat, “I wanted something that affected the community more broadly.”
That desire, and a yearning to return east, led Pipa, a native Pennsylvanian and Duke graduate, back to North Carolina and to a job as the first director of philanthropic services for the Triangle Community Foundation in Research Triangle Park.
In that position, he helped create a program to help donors with established funds turn their philanthropic interests into grantmaking and, in some cases, help them pool resources for even greater results.
“We were connecting donors and grass roots organizations and getting them to have conversations back and forth,” says Pipa, “to share ideas and maximize influence.”
Two donors he worked with were Betty Craven and Michael Warner, who were also interested in starting a private foundation and subcontracted with the community foundation to manage the initial grantmaking for the Warner Foundation.
In 2000, when the Warner Foundation struck out on its own, Pipa was hired as executive director, attracted by the opportunity to “be in on the ground floor,” and by the group’s focus on persistent poverty and race relations, two issues Pipa says are “close to my heart.”
During his tenure, Pipa worked not only to build the foundation, but to strengthen the philanthropic community and focus its efforts on issues in need of attention.
Pipa and the foundation played a critical role in two collaborative fundraising and grantmaking efforts, one for building the capacity of small Latino-led organizations and one for enhancing legal resources available to pursue racial justice.
Pipa also played a lead role in forming the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, serving as the founding board chair of the group, which convenes funders and provides them with a forum for learning about issues and coordinating resources for greater impact on common areas of concern.
“My work brings me in contact with people who are working at their best to help others,” Pipa says.
In August he will begin classes at the Kennedy School.
“I feel like I’ve been very active over the last 10 to 12 years,” he says. “I want to be able to take a step back and be thoughtful about whatever forward path I take from there.”