In this edition of Five Questions for Good, Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation sat down with Verdun Perry, SMD and Co-head of Strategic Partners, to discuss giving back, mentorship, and how and when to start giving.
Amy Stursberg: You’ve been an incredible champion of philanthropy here at Blackstone, and outside of the firm. How do you incorporate philanthropy, and giving back, in to your everyday life?
Verdun Perry: To date, all of the organizations I have gotten most involved with are ones that have touched me personally in some way, shape or form – be it an educational program or organization I benefited from, or an organization that supports a cause that has impacted my loved ones. For these organizations – SEO Scholars, Morehouse College, Cycle for Survival, Toigo – the mission of the organization must run through my life, and become part of the fabric of who I am. Especially as a father, it’s important to find ways to bring my daughter into these organizations so she grows up in a culture of giving. I try to contribute more than just a check, and work to help raise awareness about the work and cause. If you get to know me, you're going to hear about these organizations without a doubt.
AS: You mentioned Cycle for Survival, which thanks to you has really become a flagship fundraiser within Blackstone. Tell me more about your role at the organization.
VP: When Strategic Partners was first acquired, I came to meet with you and the Foundation team to see if Blackstone could support Cycle for Survival. The founders of Cycle for Survival were business school classmates of mine, and I wanted to support their fledgling organization. Blackstone began to support it with just two bikes, and our support has grown exponentially ever since. We now have over 100 employees ride annually, and have raised over $600,000 for rare cancer research. On a personal note, the organization has become even more important to me in recent years as I lost my sister to a rare cancer in 2010, so now I ride every year in her honor.
AS: Education seems to be another key piece of your philanthropy. Why is educational access an important issue area for you?
VP: When reflecting on my career, I often think how fortunate I’ve been to receive the opportunities, exposure and education to get me where I am today. I grew up in West Philadelphia, and many of my friends growing up did not have those same opportunities, and haven’t had the same success. So now, through much of my philanthropy, I try to see how I can change opportunities and trajectories for children from underserved communities. It’s why I’ve gotten so involved with SEO Scholars, which helps New York City high school students, many from disadvantaged neighborhoods, get to and through college. I serve as a board member, and also have worked to champion the organization here at Blackstone. I’m pleased to say that Blackstone now actively recruits through the SEO pipeline, and we now have 25 Blackstone employees serving as SEO Mentors this semester.
AS: You’ve clearly mastered the art of getting your cause areas to be part of Blackstone. What advice do you have for Blackstone employees looking to get involved in nonprofit organizations?
VP: At Blackstone, as it relates to our core business, people are not just encouraged to speak up; they’re expected to speak up regardless of title and regardless of function. I believe we should also tell people to speak up as it relates to things that are philanthropic, about what is important to you, and what will make the world a better place. If you have a cause area that you believe in, don't be afraid to speak about it. I’ve been able to grow support for organizations like Cycle for Survival and SEO because I am genuinely passionate about it, and am not afraid to share that passion.
AS: Any additional advice?
VP: When I first began my career, I wasn’t interested in “giving back” until I had achieved some level of success. But a few years later, the light switched on, and I thought to myself “what am I waiting for exactly? The need is now, and is only growing, so start now.” As I’ve built up my philanthropic portfolio, I wish I’d gotten started even earlier. So, what is my advice to my Blackstone colleagues, especially those beginning their careers? Start giving, and start now. Start giving immediately, and over time you can increase that giving. Start giving of your time immediately, and increase that over time. There are thousands of incredible causes out there that need your time, talents and money – however much you have to give. Find the causes that you care about, and start now.