Doug Cowan | Community Services League

A Conversation with Doug Cowan on Marrying Philanthropy and Capitalism

Community Services League has a 100-year history tied to First Lady Bess Truman, providing food and basic support in Eastern Jackson County. Asking the larger ‘why’, Doug Cowan, launched a shift to help lift the people they serve out of poverty and make a lasting change in their lives. From financial coaching, housing, employment assistance, a small dollar loan program designed to break the cycle of payday lending, and creating new ways to interact and expand access to services.   

Doug spoke at the October Conquer for Good: Connect, highlighting examples of how impact can be scaled and the creative thinking required to solve social and economic issues.

Before his talk at Conquer for Good: Connect, we had a chat with Doug about his love for his hometown, his journey as CEO of Community Services League and what the organization will be remembered for in another hundred years. Keep scrolling to read it and or watch his full talk below. 

CFG: What difference do you hope to make in the world?

DC: To provide economic mobility and opportunity to all people. To help create economies that are fair and just for all people.

For anyone interested in pursuing a social purpose what three pieces of advice would you give?

Think creatively about marrying the concepts of philanthropy and capitalism to form a creative, investible solution. Love your city and the people there. Finally, throw yourself passionately into your work.

What’s been your biggest challenge in building your organization?

For us, as a 101-year old organization, it's sometimes like pulling the brakes on a locomotive and trying to go in a different direction. It ain't easy.

What have been the most pleasant surprises?

Most people want to see meaningful change happen in the lives of the impoverished.

What is your personal purpose?

I was born with a love for my city, Independence. I love the people and the institutions there. I want our city to be better.

What are three ways people could help with your organization?

Be a smart consumer. Be a philanthropist with your time, talent, and treasure. Have crazy, wild dreams that we can flip the world on its head and make it a better place.

Who has been inspirational in the work that you do?

I've surrounded myself with dreamers. People like Mark O'Renick who believe the best is yet to come. I meet with the dreamers in my life all the time for inspiration.


Have there been any partnerships that have helped you get where you are today?

We've looked at what true partnerships are. Partnerships aren't picking up the phone and making a referral. A true partnership is both partners passionately working to make each other better.

In 100 years, when people talk about your organization’s work, what do you hope they say?

I hope they say we re-thought everything, threw out the playbook, and started over, and that made all the difference.

What does the term "Conquer for Good" mean in your life?

Let's do good, all the time, in all ways possible.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your journey?

It's a journey. We've failed a lot, and we'll fail again, but we just fail forward, and we have to have the freedom to do that, or no innovation will ever occur.

Will & Grail