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When people think of philanthropy, they often think of wealth—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Alan Frosh (BA 2005, JD 2011, MBA 2020) calls himself a “next-generation philanthropist,” and he’s spreading the word about how to make an impact on a smaller budget. Frosh is co-owner of Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store and the Denver market director at Notley Ventures, where he supports people, businesses and nonprofits striving for social change. On the Voices of Experience podcast, Frosh explains his philanthropic philosophy and how he’s rebuilding the community’s trust in Tattered Cover.

Show Notes

Alan Frosh posed on the DU campus for a portrait

Alan Frosh

Alan Frosh is a philanthropic advocate, Denver managing partner at Notley Ventures and co-owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store. He holds three degrees from the University of Denver: a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (2005), a JD from the Sturm College of Law (2011) and an MBA from the Daniels College of Business (2020).

Table of Contents

0:59 Three tours of DU-ty
2:57 A not-dirty or not-flirty 30th birthday
4:34 What is a “next generation philanthropist?”
6:28 Where to start your philanthropic journey
7:03 “American-style” philanthropy
8:42 Taking over at Tattered Cover
11:28 Rebuilding trust in Tattered Cover
15:27 How to support social change
16:57 Serving communities as an “outsider”
19:26 Keys to career success
22:18 Show notes and credits

In this episode:

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The VOE Podcast is an extension of Voices of Experience, the signature speaker series at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. Tune in each month for more business insights from Daniels’ alumni voices of experience.

Transcript

Lorne Fultonberg:
This month on the Voices of Experience podcast…

Alan Frosh:
I was always encouraged to make an impact in the way that I could.

Lorne Fultonberg:
What it means to be a philanthropist and why you don’t need a million dollars to become one.

Alan Frosh:
It’s more about the meaning you take from it yourself instead of trying to advocate broadly for your own brand, your own mission, or even the organizations you support.

Lorne Fultonberg:
A big part of Alan Frosh’s personal brand is giving back. In addition to his roles as co-owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store and Denver market director at Notley Ventures, Frosh is a “philanthropic advocate,” determined to make charity work accessible to everyone. And he has a lot to say about who can give and how. Plus, we talk about how Frosh and his business partners are working to rebuild the community’s trust in a beloved Denver bookstore. And we discuss the best ways to bring nonprofit and for-profit organizations together for the common good.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Alan, we are so happy to have you here today.

Alan Frosh:
It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Lorne Fultonberg:
You go way back in Colorado, as I understand it. Sixth generation?

Alan Frosh:
Six generations, yes. Very proud of that fact.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And then you came to the University of Denver to study, not just once, not just twice, but you did the trifecta.

Alan Frosh:
I did. I joke, if DU had a medical school, I might go back to school for that reason too.

Lorne Fultonberg:
What brought you here in the first place and what kept you coming back?

Alan Frosh:
Very proud of being a native Denver student, looking at a place to go to college, applied to two schools, one in Denver, one not in Denver. Made the decision to come to DU based on the Pioneer Leadership Program. That opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up.

It was great to stay in my hometown, stay close to my family, and be in a place I knew I could build a career. Had the intention of staying in Denver long term, wanted to keep those connections and that momentum going. I was lucky that DU was a place where there’s a lot of good energy, good people, and good opportunities to grow and learn, and find my path.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Remind me what your undergrad degree was in.

Alan Frosh:
Political science, major. Minors in business and leadership.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And then you came back for a law degree and an MBA?

Alan Frosh:
I did, yes. Came back after some time at El Pomar Foundation down in Colorado Springs. Did a fellowship down there between my undergraduate degree in coming back for law school. Started in the evening program at the Sturm College of Law at DU, and then shifted to the day program to graduate in three years. Always knew I wanted to go back to law school, but wanted to make sure I had some context by which to pursue that degree and never practiced, never had the interest in doing that. My goal was always to be a philanthropic advocate, to be able to leverage that experience toward the philanthropic sector.

As I ran my own consulting firm and helped my clients, I realized that I actually needed more of a financial background than I had in my business minor. Came back in the MBA at Denver program in its inaugural class, and then had a concentration into finance, was able to advocate for my clients more effectively, understanding how they made their money and how their money could work for their philanthropic interests.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Let’s talk about your interest in philanthropy here. I was reading an article about you and when you turned 30 years old, instead of labeling it the dirty 30, as the kids say, I suppose, or calling yourself 30 and flirty, you came up with something you called the charity 30, and that might not rhyme as well, but you wanted to raise $30,000 for charities during your birthday month, right?

Alan Frosh:
I did, yes.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Where did you get that idea and where does that interest come from?

Alan Frosh:
The interest in philanthropy was something I was taught from a very young age. My family always prioritize philanthropy, the practice of Tzedakah from our traditions, giving back to the community, making the world a better place, trying to repair the world in a sense.

And my parents and my grandmother taught me that lesson very early on, and my life and career has been devoted to that in a pretty significant way. In thinking about a 30th birthday opportunity, as you mentioned, those other things just didn’t fit for me. They weren’t…

Lorne Fultonberg:
You were not flirty, huh?

Alan Frosh:
No. Not particularly dirty or flirty, but I thought this was a nice way, and yes, it doesn’t rhyme so well, but the idea was to raise $30,000 in the 30 days before my 30th birthday, benefiting six different organizations that I had worked with in my career in order to make impact in my community and make that birthday really a momentous milestone, not just for me, but for the people that I cared about and the causes I cared about.

So we ended up raising 30% of $30,000. That’ll be $9,000, but I think it was a really good project, and I really appreciate the support that I got from my friends, family, and colleagues in making that happen. Yeah. It’s nine grand more than you had before.

Alan Frosh:
That’s exactly right.

Lorne Fultonberg:
I’ve heard you described as a next generation philanthropist. What does that term mean to you?

Alan Frosh:
I think that a lot of people have the misconception that philanthropy is something you have to wait on, that you have to make a million dollars, you have to have a big fortune to be able to make impact. I never believed that was the case, and I was always encouraged to make an impact in the way that I could, the way that was best for each individual person, not to delay into some grandiose mission.

And I think that has been something that has gained momentum recently, that folks can be philanthropic in the way that makes the most sense to them, even if they are 30 years old, less than 30 years old, or even as they grow a family or a business. That community impact can be a really meaningful thing, and that’s always something I’ve tried to live along with teach my clients, my colleagues, my friends.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Yeah. I was going to ask you about that because when I think of philanthropists, the first names that come to mind are like Bill and Melinda Gates, or Warren Buffet, or Jeff Bezos. And I was reading some articles that I’m going to put in our show notes too, from the Washington Post that says, “The wealth gap is widening,” and The Economist says that “fewer people and wealthier people are the ones that are giving more nowadays.” So how can someone get involved in the philanthropy business, I guess for lack of a better term, even if they don’t have a lot of money they can donate?

Alan Frosh:
Sure. The philanthropic business, so to speak, is certainly a wealthy person’s game. Professionals who will help those families or those businesses give, that’ll always be in that upper crust. Philanthropy as it’s very nature is a more personal thing, and whether it’s time, talent, or treasure, anyone can be a philanthropist if they decide they have a cause they want to pursue, a community to benefit, a cause to support, it can be a much more personal and more local thing than some enormous billion dollar foundation or billionaire activity. It’s all about how you make that impact more personal and more local on a more direct level.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Do you have any recommendations on where someone could get started looking for an organization that might fit their values?

Alan Frosh:
Of course. Denver is lucky to have incredible organizations, a couple great community foundations, The Denver Foundation, Rose Community Foundation. They have staff members who are well trained, well networked in this community. They can help folks on a more personal level, find causes based on their interests, their passions, their career path, their situation in life. It’s always nice to talk to people who make this a career, but their goal is to make sure they can pass on those lessons to individuals in a very direct and meaningful way

Lorne Fultonberg:
I was reading another interesting article, and again, show notes, it’ll be there, from the BBC that was talking about “American style philanthropy” and the way they termed that was in the US, it’s not just about how much you make that makes you a success, but how much you give away. And then also, Americans aren’t really quiet about telling people how much they give away. Is there a publicity thing that has to come with philanthropy?

Alan Frosh:
Not at all. I think that is another misconception. I believe that a lot of folks see philanthropy and giving as a status symbol to say, the more I give, the more notoriety I get, the more PR I can gain either for a business or for my own personal brand. I think in its very nature, philanthropy is very private and very personal, and it’s more about the meaning you take from it yourself instead of trying to advocate broadly for your own brand, your own mission, or even the organizations you support. I think in its truest nature, philanthropy is a very individual, private, value-based decision, not a public-facing PR decision

Unfortunately, philanthropy can be seen as a cover in many cases, that it’s some kind of compensatory activity where businesses who do questionable things or perhaps not making the right choices can cover that up with responsibility in the community or philanthropy in the community to cover for their practices.

Again, in its most authentic form, philanthropy is very personal, and very direct and very understated, I think, in a meaningful way where that mission speaks louder than the action itself and the value that action can provide as cover or recompense for other things that go on.

Lorne Fultonberg:
During COVID, Americans gave more often and in higher amounts. During COVID, you took on a new venture. You became co-owner of the Tattered Cover, a beloved bookstore here in Denver, and Denverite, one of the local news publications, said that you did it because you “wanted to save the iconic independent book chain from bankruptcy and turn it into a lucrative 21st century business.” Why did you get involved, and what was your vision?

Alan Frosh:
I was very lucky to be a part of that project, Tattered Cover as an institution at which I grew up, not just in general terms, but very specifically. Birthdays, graduations, they were always celebrated with a gift card or at the fourth story or other Tatter Cover activities.

When I had the chance to join that team and make the institution back into a community-facing one, I couldn’t turn that down. The consulting business was difficult during COVID, of course. Folks pulled back and decided to wait on some of their philanthropic activities. So the timing was perfect for me to be able to leverage my experience and my network in Denver with two partners who had grown up here, but were not as active in Denver as I was.

I became effectively the Chief Denver Officer, providing networking to raise some money, find some partnerships to save the store in a sense, and put it on that path back to relevance, sustainability, solvency in many ways as COVID in a low margin business, did a number on our books and our finances.

Lorne Fultonberg:
It was reeling a little bit, right?

Alan Frosh:
Yes.

Lorne Fultonberg:
I read in that Denverite article that you owed a bunch of money to publishers, and then there was also some community turmoil. The previous owners had put out a statement in response to some of the Black Lives Matters protests that were not well received.

Alan Frosh:
That’s right. And it was an unfortunate turn of events for an organization that had always been based in the community. Joyce Meskis, in her years as the owner of Tatter Cover, had always been an advocate for the First Amendment, making sure that it was protected, that folks could read what they wanted, buy what they wanted. That is what Tatter Cover should be in its purest and most basic form, is an institution that protects the community and provides access to the community. I think that the financial strain under the previous owners took a toll, obviously, not just on the business itself, but on the community’s vision of that business and how its role changed. My partners and I really were excited about building a 21st century bookstore with those values that we had grown up on, making sure we can highlight those, make sure that the community knew what we stood for, what we would be doing, and how we could make them part of our business in a really active partnership, not just a customer commercial relationship, but in a partnership in the community.

Lorne Fultonberg:
But when a business’s reputation or values are being questioned, the trust is being broken in some ways, how do you go about rebuilding that trust?

Alan Frosh:
That was one of the biggest challenges we had to take on, not just the business plan piece of it, how do we pay back publishers? How do we make sure we can grow stores, expand to new stores, but how do we make sure the community knows who we are and what we stand for? That was something we took as our number one priority to make sure, especially in the wake of the George Floyd statement and other things that had happened in the past few years, how did we build an authentic value-based company that could reinvest in the community in a meaningful way?

We had to make sure people knew what we stood for, and we stood for the community, making sure it was a partner in all of our activities, that profit was important to us, no question. The store can’t survive without profit, but that community orientation was, if not as important, certainly a huge priority for our team.

Lorne Fultonberg:
And your community is expanding, right? There are some new locations open, some that are outside the Denver Metro area. Some people have raised their eyebrows at that and said, “Maybe this isn’t the community bookstore that it used to be.” But how do you balance that growth with that community value?

Alan Frosh:
It’s a challenge, no question. Our challenge is that we need to grow to stick around, to be solvent, to thrive. We have to grow. If that means we leave the Denver area, that is something we’re going to have to confront. The goal is to make sure that each bookstore represents the community in which it sits, and that can be something we can do in Colorado Springs or in Westminster or in downtown Denver. Making that community outreach a priority is the only way to make sure we keep our authentic brand as an independent community-minded bookstore. Even if we have more than our original couple locations, that’s going to be something we’re going to have to reckon with as we grow and keep the business thriving. That’s going to be a challenge.

Lorne Fultonberg:
What would you say you’ve learned from this experience with the Tattered Cover over the past few years?

Alan Frosh:
I had to learn a lot to join Tattered Cover. I had not had any experience in the retail world at all, and so learning that piece of the business, understanding exactly how direct the impact was of COVID. The bookstore business is a very low margin one, trying to figure out ways to expand. I can leverage my degree from this very institution in helping me understand financially how the store needed to survive and change its model to make sure it could thrive and adapt to a changing ecosystem.

Certainly, the way we built our eCommerce platform, that was something that we had to build on the fly effectively, given what COVID presented. Our curbside pickup, all those operational issues, those were things that no one could prepare for, and so we almost were a little bit fortunate and that we could catch up to a changing ecosystem because our previous knowledge and everyone else’s knowledge were equally valueless in a changing economy with a pandemic no one had expected or planned for. We were able to be nimble, able to leverage our resources in a more meaningful and effective way because we had a fresh set of eyes on a project that otherwise had gotten stale.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Now that you have weathered some of that storm, where do you foresee things going with the Tattered Cover in the future?

Alan Frosh:
I think that to thrive, we have to expand. I think that to be able to build our brand into a larger community force and make sure we can leverage opportunities to serve the community, engage the community, represent the community, that will be how we can grow the brand itself, but more importantly, make sure the business is solvent and can thrive, and will be a permanent institution in Denver.

We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2021. Our team took over with the mission to make sure Tattered Cover was a leader and a haven for community engagement for the next 50 years, and that’s a huge challenge, but one that we’re all equal to.

Lorne Fultonberg:
There is a new development in your professional life too. You are now at Notley Ventures. Congratulations.

Alan Frosh:
Thank you very much.

Lorne Fultonberg:
As I understand it, what Notley does is uses money from venture funds and real estate investments to bring for-profit and non-profit partners together. Can you tell me, first of all, if that’s correct, if I have my facts straight?

Alan Frosh:
You’re correct. Yes.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Excellent. I did my homework. Tell us a little bit about what you do there and why it’s important.

Alan Frosh:
Absolutely. First of all, the model is very unique, which is something that requires some explanation, but the idea is that we can leverage those funds made, as you mentioned, from different alternative investments, real estate funds, other things that provide the capital to make this impact. We can be a catalyst for social change by engaging with those individual change makers, whether they be businesses, nonprofit organizations, individuals. Our goal is to provide support for anybody making that social change. And that support is wraparound support. It’s not just financial, though that is a big piece of it. It includes professional development opportunities, it includes mentorship, technical assistance, networking, whatever those organizations need to provide leverage or momentum for them to continue their work. That is what Notley has provided in Austin for a long time, in Columbus, Ohio, in San Antonio, and now in Denver. I feel very lucky to be part of the team. I’m glad that Notley is part of the Denver ecosystem, which I think is a very active and exciting one. I think that we’re doing a lot of good work here.

Lorne Fultonberg:
So Notley is based in Austin, Texas, as you mentioned. I was wondering if people in the community, when you’re trying to work with them, see that as some sort of a barrier that you’re an outsider trying to do work in this community. Do you ever encounter that?

Alan Frosh:
I’ve encountered a little bit of that. I think that the benefit and why I’m so pleased to be in this role is that my experience in Denver over several decades in the philanthropic world, I’ve built a reputation and a credibility in terms of philanthropic programming, authentic community-based engagement, where I can represent Notley and folks who know me know that I can represent Denver effectively, and I’m very glad that Notley has entrusted me to represent Denver in a meaningful way and provide direct feedback about what Denver has indicated to me or through me back to our team in Austin to make sure we are always representative of not just our mission, but we’re reactive to what Denver is in need of. We are not forcing an Austin-based fit. We’re finding a fit through Denver folks, making those connections and understanding through listening what those priorities are.

Lorne Fultonberg:
So is the key to giving them what they want or what they need, just listening?

Alan Frosh:
It’s a great question, and I think that for me, it’s a hybrid between listening. I’ve obviously lived my entire life, literally in Denver, and so I think I have a pretty good handle on what the challenges Denver is facing, what it will need in the future, and how a fund like Notley can support that work in Denver.

So it’s both listening to folks as they tell me the areas they’re most interested in which they’re the experts, but also applying some of my own experience and the experience that I’ve gained over my career in Denver to focus or clarify some of those needs or concerns back to my team across the country, not just in Austin, but across the country.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Is there anything that you’ve been working on recently that you feel like people should know about that you’re proud of?

Alan Frosh:
Absolutely. We are in the process of growing our brand in Denver. Notley has not been in Denver before, so my job is to expose folks to the model. As I said, it’s somewhat unique, but I think really effective in representing and getting support directly to those change makers. We’ll launch officially in January, at which point we’ll select our first slate of change makers who will receive funding from Notley, in addition to that wraparound support and partnership with other organizations in town who are helping us and supportive of our mission similarly.

Lorne Fultonberg:
When you reflect back on your career, what do you think has been key for you to get to the position that you’re in right now?

Alan Frosh:
I think that the challenge that I faced early in my career was trying to find a compromise between going to law school and being a lawyer and serving the community. That drove me to law school, which I will never regret. I loved my time at Sturm. I loved the experience I got. I think it will help me immeasurably in my career. Practicing law was never going to be my path, but I was raised in a community of lawyers. I was raised in a place where that was a great career path to build. I always wanted more impact from that, and so the challenge I faced was trying to find a way to make that effective while not, to what was talking about earlier, taking some time away and say, “No, no, I’ll work for a while, then I’ll get back to my philanthropic roots, eventually.”

I saw folks who did that and they never got back to those roots, unfortunately, and I never wanted to be in that place, so the challenge for me was finding a role that was meaningful to me, provided the lifestyle that I wanted, but also allowed me to build impact in a meaningful way, and I could be happy each day with the impact I had made in the community, professionally and personally with a value alignment that I could always be comfortable with.

Lorne Fultonberg:
That leads me really nicely into a question that we ask all of our guests on the Voices of Experience Podcast here. We are touting you as a voice of experience. As a voice of experience, Alan, what is something that you would want to pass along to our listeners?

Alan Frosh:
I think that I would just restate what I said before, that philanthropy is very personal and most effectively, it is the result of your values, what you’d like to impact the community and how you’d like to make your legacy known. All of things are important and no one can dictate those to you. Philanthropy must be personal, but it can be an opportunity to leave a mark on the community and make sure that the work that you’ve done as a professional and as just a human being can leave its mark on the community.

Lorne Fultonberg:
Great. Is there anything else that you’d want to share that we haven’t talked about?

Alan Frosh:
I’m just eternally grateful to be a Pioneer. I’ve been a Pioneer three times, as you mentioned before, but as a native Denverite, DU is an institution that represents the spirit of this community, private university for the public good as something that has stuck with me for a long time. Very proud to be affiliated with DU, proud to be a member of this community, and proud to be on this podcast with you today.

Lorne Fultonberg:
We’re so happy to have you, Alan.

That’s Alan Frosh, a philanthropic advocate, the Denver Market Director at Notley Ventures, co-owner of the Tattered Cover. Alan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Alan Frosh:
My pleasure. Thank you.

Lorne Fultonberg:
‘Tis the season for new year’s resolutions. But maybe before you buy that gym membership, take a look at our show notes page and the research that giving back can be good for you, both mentally *and* physically. Check it out at daniels.du.edu/voe-podcast. And if that sounds like the perfect workout plan for you, you’ll also find a few places to start your own philanthropic journey.

The VOE podcast is an extension of Voices of Experience, the signature speaker series at the Daniels College of Business, sponsored by U.S. Bank. Patrick Orr is our sound engineer. Alumnus Joshua Metzel wrote our theme. I’m Lorne Fultonberg. If you’re feeling generous this holiday season, we’d love a subscription, rating and review. Send ‘em our way and we’ll see you in 2023.