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January 27, 2009 4:20 PM

Simpson Thacher Breakfast Focuses on Doing Good in Hard Times

Posted by Amy Kolz

This morning, while many New York lawyers were ordering lattes and swiping Metrocards, some 112 high-powered women gathered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a breakfast co-hosted by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Accenture.

The event, “Women in Non-Profit Board Leadership," included a panel discussion about, of course, nonprofit board leadership during difficult fiscal times, and was capped off by a private viewing of the Met's latest exhibition--Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors.

The panelists were an impressive bunch of executives, law firm partners, and nonprofit leaders. Diana Taylor, a Wolfensohn & Company managing director and former New York state banking superintendent, moderated. Simpson’s Victoria Bjorklund, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide chairman Shelly Lazarus, Kavita Ramdas, the Global Fund for Women's president and CEO, and hedge fund managing director--and  Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom alum Silda Wall Spitzer were among those participating. Attendees included executives from Schering-Plough, The Blackstone Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, United Way, Pfizer, and The Partnership for New York City, to name just a few.

The worsening economy and its impact on nonprofits dominated the animated discussion, and there was nary a BlackBerry in sight amid the rapt audience. 

Bjorklund, who heads Simpson’s Exempt Organizations Group, encouraged attendees to support the passage of the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act in New York state. The law, versions of which have been adopted by 25 states, would loosen certain spending restrictions for some cash-strapped charities. For her part, Spitzer, the founding chair of Children for Children, advised board members to think creatively when it came to filling their organizations' needs, for instance, by encouraging reluctant donors to volunteer expertise, if dollars are too dear.

Lazarus raised the possibility of nonprofits with similar or complementary missions pursuing mergers or partnerships as a way of cutting costs. Ramdas, meanwhile, cautioned attendees against assuming that corporate solutions (mergers, for example) were the answer for nonprofits with superficially similar concentrations but vastly different missions. All on hand invoked the potential benefit of President Barack Obama’s emphasis on public service.

After the panel, a winnowed-down group of roughly 25 attendees (it was a workday after all), got a first peek at the Met’s Bonnard exhibition, with a guided tour by curator Dita Amory. The exhibit, which opens Tuesday, is largely made up of paintings, drawings, and watercolors from the artist's later career that have been loaned to the museum by private collections, according to Amory. 

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