One-on-One with Ron Gallo

Community Foundation of Louisville CEO, Ron Gallo, couldn’t have arrived from sunny California at a more challenging time than July 2020. COVID-19 vaccines for the masses were still months away. And if fear and anxiety in the throes of a pandemic and the severe economic consequences of a city in lockdown weren’t enough, hundreds filled downtown streets daily to protest the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“It was difficult, but not off-putting,” Gallo recalled. “I saw something special. I saw a community that was troubled but not afraid to reckon with its past and to engage in real solutions. There’s an enormous amount of graciousness, compassion, and love of place here.”

Gallo has decades of experience in private, corporate, family, and community foundations. He was tapped, after a national search, to lead the Community Foundation of Louisville in “making equity the cornerstone of everything we do,” former Board Chair Stephanie Smith said.

Reckoning with the past includes confronting and actively working to dismantle the legacy of systemic racism that has prevented racial and economic equity for Louisville’s Black residents.  We have to get more capital to Black folks,” Gallo said.

Racial Justice Cohort

So, under his leadership, the Foundation was tasked to be introspective so as to clear a path for dismantling the barriers and the distrust by taking into account the wisdom and lived experiences of Black people and Black-led organizations. A prime example of this new thrust was the Foundation’s invitation to battle-tested, trusted community leaders and activists into the decision-making process that ultimately led to 12 Black-led nonprofits being selected for the Foundation’s Racial Justice Cohort workgroup.

Gallo was an ally and participant in the Racial Justice cohort selection process. “Once the power differential is removed, you get more honesty and creativity from those seeking grants,” he said. “There was excitement and exuberance, and my insight is that inviting folks in from the beginning is the way to do business. We are restoring a capacity that was taken away from the Black community.”

The 12 cohort nonprofits were each awarded technical assistance and $40,000 in unrestricted grants renewable for three years. The Foundation’s Fund for Louisville and a handful of partners allocated grants to fund a cohort of 12. However, 13 other Black-led finalists are also doing important work and were featured in the November newsletter.

Community Philanthropy

The term philanthropy is derived from the Greek word philos, meaning love, and anthropos, meaning humankind. In other words, “Anyone can be a philanthropist by giving money, time, and even just an acknowledgement,” Gallo said. Moreover, with its outreach and network of charitable partners, the Foundation is uniquely positioned to be a leader and transformative in building a more just, more inclusive, and more resilient Louisville.

“We are here for everybody, the very wealthy and people of modest means. There are many doors here,” Gallo said. “We are full-service and egalitarian. We have a lot of knowledge about the issues. We can be thought partners in finding out what people care about. We can help with strategies that can lead people in new directions. They can invest in our scholarship fund and we can help them open charitable checking accounts into which they can add any amount.

Gallo cited Alexis de Tocqueville, the French aristocrat and civil servant’s 19th-century observation that American democracy is strengthened by associations formed to provide for the well-being of all its citizens. “Philanthropy is an American institution,” he said. “Louisville’s Muhammad Ali is also an inspiration. He cared so much about keeping the lines of communications open.”

“We have to engage. We have a point of view that we want to bring more people in to discuss,” Gallo said. Philanthropy is his life’s work. His appeal is for others to become philanthropists to whatever degree they are able. As Gallo said in our interview, the Community Foundation of Louisville has many doors one can open to learn about philanthropy more broadly, and to become philanthropists by engaging and supporting the very important work necessary to make a lasting impact on the Derby City in these extraordinarily challenging times.


Contributor: Betty Winston Baye´