Our Board


Our team is governed by a six person board:


Larry Gilson, Chairman, founded, led and now advises a leading private equity firm focused on energy investing. He served on the White House Staff of President Jimmy Carter and was one of the founding staff members of Common Cause, as well as holding other positions in the federal government and the private sector. Larry was a driving force in developing the investment screening criteria that were applied in connection with over 65 investments made over the 16 years he led his private equity firm. These criteria, in adapted form, as well as the experience in dealing with the practical challenges of scores of small and medium sized companies, are central to the protocols which Focusing Philanthropy is employing to identify, interact with, evaluate and monitor nonprofit organizations.


Elliott Gilson, former President of Focusing Philanthropy, has substantial experience working with nonprofit organizations and in volunteer activities, primarily internationally. He has worked as a business and financial analyst for venture capital firms where he honed his ability to assess the institutional capacity of small organizations, skills he has applied to the nonprofit sector. He is currently the CEO of the Action Sport Networks, which is comprised of The Ski Channel and The Surf Channel.


Diana Lidow has been philanthropically active for many years in California and nationally. She has served on multiple nonprofit boards and has volunteered her time with non-governmental organizations in Los Angeles, New York City and elsewhere. She has advanced degrees in the intersection of architecture and the environment.

Keith Ennis, Vice Chairman, was owner and chief executive officer of a leading manufacturer of parts for the automotive, HVAC and baggage handling industries. Irish by birth and now living in California, he lived and worked in China for ten years. Keith is a mechanical engineer. He has deep experience in developing business across the U.S., Europe and Asia. He is an active philanthropist in the United States and Ireland.


John Weissenbach was a partner in the corporate practice of the international law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. He spent many years as a leader of the firm’s corporate practice at their headquarters in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles to lead and substantially build the firm’s Los Angeles office. He previously worked at McKinsey & Company and Morgan Stanley & Co. and co-founded and co-led a medical services business.


Dewey Corley has served as chief executive of several companies in the oil and gas and logistics industries as well as being on the advisory boards of multiple banks. He was in private practice as a lawyer prior to commencing his business career. Dewey is active in, and serves on the boards of, a wide range of philanthropic and civic organizations in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana and throughout the United States.


Our Operating Team


In addition to Larry Gilson, day to day team members include the following individuals:


Parnia Banki Prior to joining Focusing Philanthropy, Parnia was with Oaktree Capital Management for 18 years, most recently in the Marketing and Client Relations area as Senior Vice President, where she was responsible for private client sales in the Western United States. Prior to Oaktree, Parnia was an Assistant Vice President in the Marketing and Client Relations department at TCW, where she co-led the Client Relations group. Parnia has supported Focusing Philanthropy as a donor since its inception in 2012.


Cathy Pedersen is our Corporate Secretary. She splits her time between Focusing Philanthropy and two small businesses for which she is administrator. She was, for many years, in the special events and studio services departments of Paramount Pictures where she supported operations and was responsible for the financial reporting of 17 departments. She volunteers with several organizations at the community level. Cathy is also active in identifying, evaluating and monitoring nonprofits related to education and other human needs in the U.S.


Whitney Schaefer divides her time between communications and managing relationships with certain of our international nonprofits. She is active in the monitoring and evaluation of grantees, participating in site visits to document performance. Whitney has a journalism degree and worked for marketing agencies in Los Angeles and Italy before obtaining an M.A. in Sustainable Development. She has held long-term monitoring, evaluation, and communications assignments for international NGOs and social enterprises in Washington D.C., India, and Cambodia.

Jason Windebank is our Treasurer. He has been active from the beginning of Focusing Philanthropy in seeking out potential recipient organizations, especially those addressing needs outside the United States. Jason is a regular participant in visits to our current and prospective international nonprofits as part of our diligence and monitoring activities. He relates to certain of our international nonprofits. He has a law degree and MBA, has worked for investment firms in the United States and Russia and is widely traveled internationally.


Teresa Cisneros Burton manages our relationship with several of our domestically-oriented nonprofit implementing partners. She is also active in identifying and evaluating nonprofits we are considering adding to our portfolio. She is an attorney and has worked in private practice as well as the public sector. Teresa has been actively engaged in several nonprofits and serves on the board of two Los Angeles-based nonprofit organizations.


MJ Tortogo supports donation processing, bookkeeping and reporting functions. A native of the Philippines, she also provides insights and has visited nonprofits with which we relate in that country.