Why individual donors matter: An interview with PSI’s CEO Karl Hofmann

Why individual donors matter: An interview with PSI’s CEO Karl Hofmann

Last week Charlie Bresler met with Karl Hofmann, President and CEO of Population Services International (PSI) to discuss PSI’s recent healthcare initiatives and the importance of individual donors for PSI’s life-changing poverty relief work.

Today’s post highlights some of PSI’s recent achievements in its goal of eradicating extreme poverty during our lifetime. This is the first piece in a blog series written by Charlie that will feature perspectives, insights, and recommendations from the directors of The Life You Can Save’s recommended charities.

What possessed Karl Hofmann, a career diplomat stationed in Paris, to leave the diplomatic corps and accept a position as President and CEO of Population Services International? After spending fifty minutes speaking with this remarkable man, the answer to this question became apparent to me.

In 2000, Karl was in Togo as the American ambassador at a time when HIV had reached epidemic proportions in much of sub-Saharan Africa. During his tenure in West Africa, Karl worked with PSI on key HIV prevention and treatment initiatives and quickly became impressed with the organization’s cost-effective and effectively scaled programs. When the CEO of PSI retired in 2007, the organization approached Karl to offer him the job. Needless to say, Karl accepted the challenge.

Karl’s decision was motivated by his belief that he could do more good in Africa and in developing countries with PSI than he could through traditional diplomatic work. He left Paris on a Friday and reported to work at PSI on the following Monday. He has been President and CEO of PSI for eight years now and has never regretted his decision.

With offices and staff members based in 65 countries, PSI has a strong track record of providing healthcare resources that help people in the developing world lead healthy lives and plan their families. My conversation with Karl gave me insight into many of the important issues that shape PSI’s approach to combating the devastating effects of global poverty. Here is a list of some of these issues:

  • The tensions inherent in running a large NGO that emanate from people’s “emotional” response to organizational issues versus a “bottom line, business-like” strategy.
  • How does a CEO of an NGO balance his/her time between organizational HR demands and building strategy and working with partners outside the organization?
  • The challenges of a “holistic approach” versus a “vertical” approach to solving problems in the developing world.
  • The private sector’s motivation to fight extreme poverty and improve the infrastructure in the developing world.
  • Opportunities for women that are created by the challenge to “patriarchy” that is inherent in fighting extreme poverty and underdevelopment.
  • The challenges of creating sustainable behavior change.
  • The importance of “wonky” measurements like DALY’s in fighting global poverty.

I’ll discuss these issues—and more—in upcoming blog posts. Today, I’ll focus on just one key issue that Karl discussed with me during our conversation. I want to tell you why even a small donation can have a big impact for non-profits like PSI.

The importance of individual donors

As a supporter of The Life You Can Save, you might wonder how your individual gift to PSI could be used to make a measurable difference. The majority of the grants and financial support that PSI receives from governments and philanthropic foundations are earmarked for well-established programs and cannot be used to implement newer initiatives. Money PSI raises through donations like the ones The Life You Can Save solicits on our information page for PSI go to fund experimental programs that have a potential for high impact. Due to funding allocation restrictions, these programs are difficult to fund except through donations like yours.

How could your gift to PSI make a significant difference in the lives of those in developing countries? Here’s a recent example from PSI’s HIV/AIDS prevention work in sub-Saharan Africa. PSI was able to put together a million dollar budget to fund a voluntary medical male circumcision program, which had been proven to reduce the transmission of HIV. The program was funded primarily by gifts from individual donors rather than by corporate or government sponsors.

Once PSI demonstrated the effectiveness of this pilot program, the organization was then able to secure grants from the Gates Foundation and the U.S. government to dramatically expand the program. Since 2007, PSI has prevented more than a quarter million cases of HIV transmission through its voluntary circumcision programs. As of August 2014, PSI circumcised its one-millionth client.

That’s why PSI needs your dollars to gather the data to fund potentially high impact programs.

Thanks for taking the time to read about PSI’s life-saving impact upon those living in the developing world. I look forward to sharing more insights from Karl Hofmann and from the women and men who lead our recommended charities.

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About the author:

Charles Bresler

Co-founder, Board Member

After earning a PhD in Social and Clinical Psychology, Charlie Bresler became director of behavioral medicine for The California School of Professional Psychology, Fresno (CSPP-F), where he was a full-time professor and founder of a teaching clinic for anxiety & stress disorders. In 1993, he was recruited by The Men’s Wearhouse, where he went on to be head of human resources, stores, marketing, and, ultimately, president. He stepped down in 2008 to fulfill his long-standing desire to work directly on social and economic issues, not too long after he read Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save. Catalyzed by the concept, Charlie reached out to Peter and proposed combining Peter’s theory with the formation of a nonprofit to advance Peter’s ideas and to raise money for high-impact, cost-effective organizations. Together, they founded The Life You Can Save, where Charlie took on all organizational operations as executive director until 2024. He was supported in this work and in his financial support for the organization by his wife Diana, a family physician, and executed the role pro bono.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.