Peter Karoff founded TPI in 1989. Beginning with his early work as a founding member of the Foundation for Urban Negro Development in Boston, Peter was a champion of civil rights and social justice. He discovered his true calling in strategic philanthropy when in 1988 he introduced a friend, a CEO of a major corporation looking to start a corporate giving program, to another friend, the film-maker Henry Hampton, who was struggling to find funding for the second installment of his civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize II. Inspired by the idea of matching wealth to need, Peter then founded The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), a pioneering nonprofit consulting firm dedicated to increasing the impact of philanthropy in society. Over the next 25 years under Peter’s guidance and direction, TPI became a leading influence in the world of philanthropy.
Whether working with individual donors and families or large foundations and corporations, Peter employed empathy and wisdom to align donor goals and values with historically underserved communities and populations, and with projects that sought to advance the human condition through art and culture. The richness and depth of his commitment to progressive causes reflected his core belief in the ethical and moral purpose of philanthropy, which he realized throughout both his personal and professional life. The impact of Peter’s humanism, generosity, compassion, lyricism, and mentoring were deeply felt by people from all walks of life, and is missed by all who knew him.
Peter frequently spoke and wrote on philanthropic and social issues. His book on philanthropy, The World We Want, was published in 2007, and he was the editor of the 2004 collection Just Money–A Critique of Contemporary American Philanthropy. For 25 years prior to founding TPI, Peter was prominent in the real estate and insurance industries in Boston.
Peter’s love of poetry was legendary, and his need to poeticize was constant and inveterate. He practiced the art over many years, on his family (epically), friends, and colleagues, in speeches around the country and abroad, in classrooms at Columbia where he earned an MFA in poetry at the age of 51, and at Tufts University, Boston University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he taught both philanthropy and poetry. His last class was a poetry seminar he taught in fall 2016 through the Vista Program in Santa Barbara entitled “Poetry and Metaphor—Living a Life of . . .” Peter’s poetry has been published and anthologized, and his first book of poems, Parable, was published in 2017.
Over the years, Peter was on the board of more than 30 nonprofit organizations, including Roxbury Development Corporation, Business Executives for National Security, WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston University’s Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership, the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University, and Blackside Productions. He was a Fellow of the MacDowell Colony and a 2006 Purpose Prize Fellow. Most recently, he was active in the GHR Foundation, Robina Foundation, and the Santa Barbara Foundation. Upon his move with his wife Martha to Santa Barbara in 2008, he embraced a West Coast philanthropic community and new cohorts of leaders to mentor, as he had done for decades on the East Coast.
What I do what we all do is write the poem of life
You see it isn’t a matter of time but compassion
Call it community or hope or faith or call it love.
That is the flow that is the poem.
– “If I Had More Time,” from Parable