A new generation of philanthropy

Garrett Brown

At 35, Garrett Brown is among the youngest SVPSA Partners, which gives him a unique perspective on engaging the next generation of philanthropists. He also has more than a decade of experience in recruiting millennial leaders to serve in community. Garrett shares some things he has learned with SVPSA.

While he believes younger professionals have a strong desire to serve, they don’t always understand the need in their communities. The key is telling a story effectively, and use appropriate communication channels to let them know what’s happening close to home, Brown said.

“We need to convey to younger people that you don’t have to hop on a plane to Africa to help people, because five blocks away from you there’s a family that can’t keep the heat on.”

“We have to not only involve them, which isn’t always easy, but we also have to use the technology tools they’re using to communicate with each other.

“The community is now in your pocket. You can associate yourself or disassociate yourself with anyone right there on your phone,” he said. “I think a lot of people are looking at their cell phones and want to be introduced to that story that calls them to something more service-oriented.”

Brown also believes that younger people who grew up in relative comfort may not understand the need that exists locally.

“I grew up in Bexar County and I had no idea just how much need there was,” he said.

He recalls talking to peers who felt compelled to take mission trips abroad to help people without realizing the need closer to home.

“If we tell the story effectively, we can convey to younger people that you don’t have to hop on a plane to Africa to help people, because five blocks away from you there’s a family that can’t keep the heat on,” he said. “We have a way through organizations like SVP and United Way that allows us to directly help and get those things done.”

Helping those in need is part of his current role as lead public affairs specialist at NuStar Energy. While his responsibilities include representing the company in the community and to elected officials, he said the company’s outreach also focuses on supporting Haven for Hope, a 22-acre campus for people experiencing homelessness that NuStar founder Bill Greehey established in San Antonio.  

One of Brown’s most formative volunteer experiences happened when he first began working at NuStar in 2012 after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. Greehey, then the company’s CEO, tapped Brown to join a new effort to recruit the younger generation to United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County.

He joined a council focused on recruiting young professionals, which led to Emerging Leaders, a subcommittee of United Way that now includes 1,600 members.

The group began in response to data showing that young professionals were not contributing money or time to United Way.

“We had to figure out how to get millennials involved in Bexar County,” he said. “Their data showed that if this trend continues not only will our coffers hurt, but we won’t have volunteers.”

Brown understands that for established executives, it’s often easier to work with peers already in your network who know how to get things done, but emphasizes the importance of taking younger professionals under their wings as mentors did with him.

“The truth is we’re not always going to be around, and it’s important to include those new guys,” he said.

That thinking led Harriet Marmon Helmle to recruit Brown to SVP as a partner when she was helping to establish the San Antonio chapter in 2015.

“There’s a citywide joke that when Harriet reaches out to you, you don’t say no,” Brown said. “We all have limited time and money and we want to invest it as well as we can, so if Harriet is behind it, it’s a smart bet.” 

Brown appreciated SVP’s focus on affecting lasting change by creating growth and stability for nonprofit organizations.

“What I liked about SVP was they are not just looking at the acute care angle of today,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘what problems can we address today and fix in the long-term?’”

Brown began battling health problems in 2014. Now that his health has improved, he plans to become more involved in SVP’s model of giving time and talent to nonprofits.

“For years we thought we could throw money at problems and we’ve found that’s simply not true,” he said. “It helps to have wealth, but I think we’ve found that time and talent, gifts you’re blessed with, that’s what fixes the problem. That’s where the solution lies.”