Michael DeCristofaro joined the Foundation staff in May as a senior philanthropy advisor in the Manchester and Capital regions. He works with generous people, families and businesses who want to make a difference in their communities. Here, he talks with the Foundation’s Lois Shea about community philanthropy, Bruce Springsteen and three stories that always keep dinner party conversation going.
Tell me how you chose your life’s work or how it chose you.
I would say it chose me. I was a business major in college, and my parents were always super-involved in our community and helping people. I did an internship at a nonprofit that was doing capacity-building and training for nonprofits — the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School. And then I did an internship at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. So I saw directly some of the challenges that a nonprofit was facing. I ended up in a job in fundraising, and got my Master’s in Nonprofit Management, and then moved into consulting so I could help a broader spectrum of nonprofits operate more sustainably…and here at the Charitable Foundation, we are helping do the same thing in a more focused way.
What about community philanthropy captured your imagination?
I remember a conversation with my advisor in college saying ‘here is what I think I want to do: I want to work helping nonprofits build capacity,’ and one of the things we came up with was being a foundation program officer. I can say my career steps have been almost intentionally building toward being part of a community foundation.
I am mission-driven in the sense that I have always wanted to help as many people as I could. But I did not want that to be confined to one single area of nonprofit work. My mission has always felt like helping many organizations with their mission. And that is what community foundations do, in a really unique way: We’re helping people to be thoughtful and strategic about their philanthropy and encouraging them to really understand the big picture. At a community foundation, we are encouraging them to get involved with their philanthropy, not just writing a check.
You did minors in finance and religious studies in college. That had to have made you a demographic of one. That is a really interesting combination of things…
I went to a small, Catholic liberal arts college so there were more people who crossed sectors than you might expect. I will say amongst all of my friends they were very traditional liberal arts degrees and I was a business major and they gave me a lot of grief for that. But I was interested in the finance classes and interested in religious studies, so that is what I did, and I think the combination of business and liberal arts really prepared me for my career.
We all have a “why New Hampshire” story…what’s yours?
My wife. She is from Bedford, and we met at college. She dragged me to Boston for grad school…When we had our daughter, we started looking at buying a house and ultimately ended up where we are now to be close to her parents. We have a one-year-old, and New Hampshire will be a great place for her to grow up.
What’s the last fun New Hampshire thing you guys did?
This summer we’ve been trying to explore the area a lot more and discover things for our daughter. We went to the SEE Science Center last weekend. I think I loved it more than my daughter. One of my favorite things is just seeing her discover new things.
What is something about you that people wouldn’t know from looking at your LinkedIn profile?
A few years ago, I was joking with my wife about needing three things that, if I’m at dinner party and bring this topic up, no matter who I’m talking to, this would start a conversation.
One is that I grew up in a funeral home. My mom and uncles owned a small-town funeral home. My uncles lived above the funeral home and we lived next door, so I grew up there. All through high school and college I worked there. I did everything from vacuuming floors to working wakes and viewings, directing traffic in the parking lot, being a pallbearer…
In so many ways. I think it was the best first job. Customer service and personal interaction couldn’t be more difficult than during a funeral. You can’t be an irresponsible teenager standing in a funeral home.
Someday, I am going to write a book called “My Normal Childhood,” because for me, that was just normal.
At 15, I was given the option to take over the business when I grew up.
You said no? Why?
Primarily because of the hours.
There were too many Christmas mornings growing up where we would have to literally stop opening presents and mom would have to take a phone call because somebody had died. That is simply what has to happen, of course, but I knew that I wanted to make a different kind of life.
Wow. So what are the other two dinner party stories?
The second one is that I met Pope Francis. If you have been married recently and are in Rome and have your Catholic marriage certificate you can meet the pope. He does a weekly audience you can get reserved special seating and the pope comes through and shakes your hands…
And I lived through Hurricane Sandy and was evacuated by boat. I climbed out my living-room window into a boat the day after the storm. The basement and garage had about five feet of water in them, but we did not lose the house, just a lot of stuff. So that ended okay.
You grew up in New Jersey, so are you a Springsteen fan?
Can I say no?
Probably not to me.
I also have to legitimately say yes. I have an aunt who is obsessed. I think my first concert was while I was in college. We made a family reunion out of a Springsteen concert in Giants Stadium. If you’re going to see Springsteen, it has to be in New Jersey. Or Manhattan. Manhattan counts.
So: Mets, Yankees or Red Sox?
Yankees. I grew up when the Yankees won four years out of five, so…
You might want to keep that under wraps around here.
What is a book or film that you find yourself recommending to people all the time, or that you give as a gift?
A book that I love that I will often tell people about is “Don’t Stop the Carnival” by Herman Wouk. It’s sort of like Jimmy Buffet in a book. Kind of like island escapism, and remembering that many problems probably don’t matter as much as you think they do. I think that is something I try to live by, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’…when everything you own is destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, but everyone you know is safe, it really puts things in perspective.
So what are the moments, doing this job, that confirm that path that you have been on since college?
It’s really about connecting people to what they care about. Every time I get to connect someone with something they’re passionate about and help them see how they can be a part of solving a critical problem, I go “This is why I do this. This is the right place for me.”