Tom O'Donohue - Giving Back


The very good people over at Good Circle reached out to us when they heard about the launch of our new online magazine. They were interested in contributing with a monthly column about the many generous people who devote much of their time to East End causes. What ensued was a conversation about the hearts and minds that drive social capital within a community. What compels them? What’s in it for them? What satisfaction do they get from helping others…from giving back?

It turns out we were conceiving a column about Giving. It seemed like a swell idea because the people that live in a community – and give to the community – are what truly make the community. Good Circle was founded on the premise that most of us want to give something back. Their business is an online crowd-funding platform ( that taps our desire to make a difference while joining with others who care about the same things we do. It’s simple, it’s purpose-driven, and it’s brilliant because it solves the problem for individuals and businesses that feel passionately about a cause and seek a way to connect with it through a non-profit.

Fred and Joan recently sat down with one of Sag Harbor’s titans of generosity, Tom O’Donoghue. He generously shared the story of his life and family and why he’s so passionate about the whole notion of giving.

tom-donoghueTom O’Donoghue

Tom O’Donoghue Associates is a highly regarded East End building and renovation firm with a well-heeled client list that includes a number of celebrities and high profile architects and artists. A prolific fundraiser and co-founder of the annual Katy’s Courage run, Tom lives in Sag Harbor with his wife and three children.

BH: What motivates you to do ‘good’?

Tom: My mother always gave to charity. She’d say you get back three-fold what you give. That kind of advice sticks with you. I want my kids to understand that giving is part of life. There’s usually some personal connection for me and it feels good. I hope to pass that on to my kids. I involve them in things – I had my son James pick out kids Christmas gifts with me for Wounded Warrior Project families. I like to give back to Sag Harbor, which has supported me.

BH: You’re involved in the creation of people’s homes. What does home mean to you?

Tom: Family and community. That’s what makes it all work. I was the middle of seven kids growing up on a farm in southwest Ireland. We didn’t have a lot – if we wanted a new toy, we’d go beachcombing and chances are we’d find something. I had a great childhood but couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now. My kids go to school here. We love the teachers. This is home. The only way I’m leaving here is in a box!

BH: You have an impressive list of testimonials on your website. What’s key to success when working with clients?

Tom: I like to have a client I consider a friend – it’s about having a long term relationship. I tell them the most important thing is they like and trust me. All you have in this business is your word. If you cut corners, no one is going to be happy.

BH: You donated $15,000 to’s crowdfunding project to restore part of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. What prompted your involvement?

Tom: Sag Harbor has a great history. Good, local people donated things through the years which are now enjoyed by us all and I thought what a great way to leave something behind. I’d love that someday my kids could tell their kids, “Dad helped do that.” It’s not about how much money you’ve made, it’s the simple things in life. I was touched my clients donated too. It’s a real community of giving.

BH: You’ve raised thousands competing in endurance races. What are your other interests?

Tom: If I could live on my boat, I would. It’s my downtime – I even enjoy cleaning it – and there’s a great sailing community down at the harbor. I also fish – although I hide the number of rods I have from my wife!

BH: What’s the East End’s best kept secret in your opinion?

Tom: The Dock Restaurant, Montauk. It’s old school Montauk. It’s like walking into ‘Cheers’! There’s history all over the walls. The food’s great and the beer is cold!