Philanthropy Summit at SPA

Amy Hagedorn, our featured speaker, and Dean David Birdsell on the stage & Dana Elmquist asking a question

by Eleanor Whitney

On Monday, May 9th Amy Hagedorn, of the Hagedorn Foundation, spoke in conversation with School of Public Affairs Dean David Birdsell to Baruch MPA students, faculty, graduates and guests. Invited as part of David Gallagher and Christopher Cloud’s “Workshop in Professional Fundraising Practice” class in the School of Public Affairs MPA Class, Ms. Hagedorn discussed how she became involved in philanthropic work, the kind of projects that inspired her to give, and some of her goals as a funder.

Ms. Hagedorn studied marketing and advertising at Baruch and worked as a pre-Kindergarten teacher. She married Horace Hagedorn, who was the founder of the Miracle Gro fertilizer company. At first they began giving money as “checkbook philanthropists” – writing checks at the end of the year. They then established the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust. When Mr. Hagedorn passed away, they created the private Hagedorn Foundation.

Amy Hagedorn and Dean David Birdsell

The Hagedorn Foundation focuses on giving to causes and organizations focused on education, especially early childhood, immigration, and efforts to reduce poverty and promote sustainability on Long Island. As a funder she is, “Thrilled to make a difference for social change rather than charity,” and remarked that, “I’m afraid that the growth of philanthropy is a consequence of two strata in our society [the very wealthy and the poor] and a shrinking middle class.”

When Dean Birdsell asked Ms. Hagedorn what constitutes effective philanthropy and giving away money “well,” she laid out very clear criteria. She explained funders want to see results, though acknowledged that evaluation is expensive and it is often hard to measure a program quantitatively to see if it worked.

Ms. Hagedorn also emphasized the importance of committed leadership in nonprofits as an organizational quality that is important to her as a funder. She expressed that through her giving to organizations she is interested in nurturing young leaders that have promise and also leaders that seek to collaborate with other nonprofits to address a problem. Finally, she suggested that nonprofits must demonstrate leadership not just in their grant applications to foundations, but in their practice and that an organization’s reputation was very important to her as a funder. According to Ms. Hagedorn effective leaders, whether they be Executive Directors or Development Officers, are people who care about the issues they work with and other people, are personable and relatable, and work to build strong relationships with all community members, not just funders.

Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity for those of us studying fundraising and working in nonprofits to get first hand insight from a funder and especially one so generous with her time and sharing her ideas and experiences.

Eleanor Whitney is currently a student in the MPA program at Baruch. Y0u can reach her at or through her personal blog


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