Some people who start out poor and then make a lot of money forget their roots. Not Mario Morino. In a speech to the august City Club of Cleveland in 2012, Morino talked about growing up in one of the city’s working class neighborhoods.
My dad sold vacuum sweepers door to door and drove a cab. My mom cleaned offices. I’m sure they are looking down from the heavens today, not quite believing what they see. In fact, I can see my mom up there waving the wooden spoon she used for making sauce for Sunday pasta, whispering, “Do good, Maduch. Please don’t screw up in front of all these important people!”
Looking back on it, there’s no question I grew up poor. I just didn’t know it.
My mom was the rock. In addition to cleaning offices, she cleaned other people’s homes and ironed shirts to keep the family afloat. She made sure my brother, sister, and I—and oftentimes our friends and cousins—were well fed, clothed, and loved.
Morino went on to describe the community institutions–the churches, schools, local Y and public library–where he was supported by committed teachers and coaches.
Then he said:
When I drive through my old neighborhood today, it’s a completely different story…So many elements of the connected and supportive community I knew were broken by lost manufacturing jobs and have given way to vacant buildings and empty lots.
A kid today growing up on my old street—a kid born with intelligence and drive and a caring parent—doesn’t have nearly the same opportunities I had.
For more than two decades, Morino has been working in one way or another to create better opportunities for those kids who have the misfortune to grow up without the family or community support that enabled him to do so well. Most recently, he has built a network of nonprofit leaders known as the Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community that aims to improve the performance of nonprofits.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy has my story about Morino and the Leap Ambassadors in its May issue. Here’s how it begins:
Mario Morino would soon turn 70. For a blue-collar kid from Cleveland, he had done very well for himself. He had made a fortune in the software industry and given a lot of it away — about $40 million, he estimates. He had helped pioneer venture philanthropy, an approach to charitable giving modeled on venture capital. He had written a book called Leap of Reason, urging nonprofits “to create more meaningful, measurable good.”
Morino was unsatisfied. He took time off after publishing his book, and he was restless.
“I felt guilty,” he recalls. “I’d been out of the action for two years.” He could have joined another board or two, but he wanted more. So he set out to build a movement to improve the performance of America’s charities.
“There are too many nonprofits,” Morino says, “that are just not doing enough to ensure they’re making a positive difference.”
You can get access to the story here to find out just how Morino and his colleagues are trying to help nonprofits perform better. They are doing important work, in my view. I should add that while my story in the Chronicle focuses on Morino, what originally drew me to the story was seeing the caliber of people who have chosen to be part of the Leap community. It has attracted some of the most impressive nonprofit leaders in America, and it is very much a collaborative effort. But it would have never happened without Morino.