Every Letter Read: Reflections From Our Board

Next month marks the end of the Letters Foundation’s four-year tenure in Boston. For this last blog post, we invited our Board of Directors to reflect on which aspects of Doris Buffett’s legacy have been most resonant, and how serving on the Board has offered new perspectives:

We represent Doris Buffett’s dearest family and friends, and we remain awestruck by her lifelong commitment to helping others. With a civic conscience born out of inspiration and a deep admiration for her father, a four-term Congressman from Nebraska, Dodo (as we all call her) was aware as a young girl of the need all around her. When she had no money, she gave others her time. When she had means, she gave others both her time and money. She observed throughout her life how so many people in this country fell on hard times, and nothing made her happier than when she could help give someone a hand up. 

Dodo was creative, thoughtful and passionate. Her intelligence, deep sense of practicality, and genuine interest in individuals were cornerstones of her unique and vitally impactful “retail” philanthropy, which went on to become the Letters Foundation. Whether assembling friends, family, volunteers or students, Dodo became an expert in getting others to help her direct her philanthropic capital to people who had few other resources—our extended family at the Letters Foundation is a testament to her recruitment expertise. Individual grantmaking is hard, gritty, emotionally draining and sometimes disappointing work, but Dodo inspired all of us to think more deeply and push boundaries with every grant, no matter how small. 

As the Letters Foundation Board of Directors, we have been responsible for stewarding this organization and ensuring that her voice, personality, and very unique philosophy remain at the forefront of its grantmaking. Being a Board member presented a unique kind of challenge, particularly as the Letters Foundation continued to rapidly grow, but we learned that it was entirely possible to keep Dodo’s voice alive while embracing the thoughts, ideas, and energy of many others.The enthusiasm, love, and diversity that staff and volunteers added to this effort pushed the scope, accomplishments, and message of Dodo’s work far further than our former, smaller organization could have.  

Serving on the Letters Foundation Board of Directors has been a grounding and humbling experience. To learn (or rather, to read) about the experiences of people in our community who are suffering motivates us to do whatever we can to continue helping people and keeping Dodo’s legacy alive, while truly appreciating the blessings we have. It was a privilege to hear the stories of grant recipients featured in Letters to Doris—stories we wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for Dodo’s philanthropy and those carrying out her life’s work. Bearing witness to all that our incredible staff and volunteers have accomplished over the years has been an extraordinarily fortunate experience, and we don’t take it for granted.  

Dodo always liked to get the ball rolling. She would identify an unmet need and work on it until it became a large enough cause to capture the interest of the neighborhood, the community, a larger philanthropic organization, or a government institution, and then she would gracefully step aside and focus on the next project needing her attention. The incarnation of the letters program that our staff and volunteers have loved and worked so hard for may be coming to an end, but Dodo would say, brusquely: “So, what’s next?” The work isn’t over. She will always be with us, and today she challenges us to continue paying it forward. 

Doris Buffett was a woman who spent a lifetime caring for individuals and families who felt forgotten. Although we may not be able to write her a letter anymore, her decades of work have inspired the next generation of philanthropists, and her legacy remains within all of us. Whether we offer time, money, a listening ear, or help in working through a problem, we’ve all learned how to think like Doris and offer help in our communities, one person at a time. If ever in doubt, just ask yourself, “What would Doris Do?”

In closing, we want to say a sincere and heartfelt thank you to the staff and volunteers who have poured time and energy into this organization and are the reason that over 1,000 people’s lives have been impacted with a grant. Doris would be so proud of all of you—her Sunbeams—and all that you have accomplished. Her wish (and ours) would be that we all take some of the Letters Foundation spirit and continue to spread sunshine wherever our collective paths take us.

Alex Buffett Rozek, Mimi Rozek, and Noni Campbell