Melissa Berman, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Twitter = @RockPhilanth

Melissa Berman is the President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc., an innovative nonprofit philanthropy service founded by the Rockefeller family. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' mission is to help donors create thoughtful, effective philanthropy throughout the world. A frequent speaker, Ms. Berman has been profiled in the New York Times and the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Her ideas and views are featured regularly in the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, Financial Times, USA Today, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She has been interviewed on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, NPR, CNBC-TV, and Bloomberg TV. Ms. Berman is a director of the Foundation Center and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. She is an adjunct Professor at Columbia University Business School, where she also serves on the Advisory Board for the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise. She is a member of the International Council of the New Israel Fund. Ms. Berman holds a B.A. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors develops strategic plans, conducts research, manages foundations and trusts, structures major gifts, coordinates donor collaboratives, and provides re-granting and fiscal sponsorship services. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors annually manages or facilitates about $200 million in giving to more than 20 countries. It has offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. 

On the show, Ms. Berman discusses a new framework for shaping, discussing and assessing the core beliefs and capabilities that underlie a foundation, or any giving program. 

Explore how the “Theory of the Foundation” framework allows funders to look at their giving, the environments in which they operate, and their core competencies with fresh eyes and renewed commitment — potentially setting a new course and increasing impact for your organization. 


In this interview, we discuss:

  1. What is the basis for practicing thoughtful, effective philanthropy?  (2:30)
  2. What is the Theory of the Foundation, and how is it applicable?  (5:00)
  3. How Foundations are evolving to become more responsive and more hands on. (9:15)
  4. Why right now is a 'Golden Era' for philanthropy?  (18:45)
  5. The need for a wide variety and diversity of Foundations to address social problems. (21:00)
  6. The first step to becoming a philanthropist is to get involved: volunteer.  (24:00)


"The Theory of the Foundation helps a Foundation to think through: what are our resources, what are our capabilities, what is our legacy? And where is it that we can add the most value?"  

-Melissa Berman


  1. About Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Philanthropy Roadmap
  2. About Melissa Berman
  3. The Theory of the Foundation from the Stanford Social Innovation Review
  4. Creating Change Through Informed Philanthropy article in Philanthropy News Digest.
  5. Between The World And Me by Te-Nehesi Coates (on Amazon)


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