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The Circle of Giving June 6, 2012

I have always been fascinated with the concept of “community building”; the process in which a group of people come together to learn from and nurture each other towards a  shared goal.  This fascination led me to study community social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell where I was first introduced to the nonprofit sector and the altruism that fuels a lifetime commitment to empowering folks to live their best lives.  One of my professors, Dr. Meg Bond (who I love more than she’ll ever know) had a poster in her office with a list of simple messages illustrating how to build a sense of community that I still remember to this day.  So when I decided to become involved in philanthropy (whose etymology means “the love of humanity”), I felt the alignment of my passion and ultimate career choice.  This is what I imagine people feel when they decide to become being involved in a giving circle.

Giving circles is a form of philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund and then decide which local causes to support.  I wanted to know more about this type of community-based philanthropy so I reached out to Kezia M. Williams, Chairwoman of Washington, D.C.’s Capital Cause to find out more about this giving practice.  Below is what she had to say.

Q: Giving circles have increased in popularity over the past decade.  As a young professional, what attracted you to become involved in philanthropy?

A:  During the 2008 Presidential Election, I volunteered with a team of grassroots organizers to plan low-dollar fundraisers on behalf of a candidate.  Through teamwork, we were able galvanize financial support from young donors in six different cities, and challenge them to collectively give small amounts to the campaign.  Overall, these efforts yielded $250,000, an amount that was raised from various individuals who contributed no more than fifty dollars each.

Not only did this volunteer effort show me the power of giving, but it highlighted the impact that collective philanthropy could make.  Once the campaign ended, I convened a group of organizers and we discussed how we could continue our efforts on behalf of a cause versus a candidate.  For 10 months we brainstormed, debated and drafted up plans for a cause-focused organization that would re-define philanthropy among young people. The result was Capital Cause, a nonprofit organization that would involve young people in collectively giving back their money (capital) and time (cause) to address community issues.  Overall, we wanted to revolutionize the concept of philanthropy by making it accessible to all people regardless of donation amount.  This ran counter to the widely-accepted definition that only rich people could self-identify as philanthropists.

What Capital Cause represents is a movement of young people who believe that collective cause-focused action can change the world.  The organization achieves this by recruiting donors to contribute small amounts of time and hours by participating in: fundraisers, Giving Circles Projects or joining our Young Philanthropist Program.  The end goal is to create a new generation of donors.

Q:  Most nonprofits are experienced in approaching grantmaking foundations for financial support, mainly because of the popularity of these institutions.  In your experience, how have people found out about the funding that is available through Capital Cause?

A:  Capital Cause is still a young organization, and we are diligently working to inform the D.C. Metropolitan community about our various grant opportunities.  Our capital director, who manages our financial giving, proactively researches nonprofit organizations that are doing work in our cause area of the year and sends grant information to them.  Our capital director also works with our PR team to promote grant opportunities on our website and through social media.   We believe that if we continue to proactively inform the community about our grant opportunities, nonprofits will begin to contact us for financial support.  To date, we’ve seen a steady increase in grant applications which proves this point.

Our cause director also manages our Giving Circles Projects, which is a program that connects the skills and talents of our members to nonprofits in need of specialized assistance completing short-term projects.  In the past, volunteers have assisted nonprofits with creating websites, designing promotional brochures, completing phase 1 of a school’s accreditation and planning a free laundry day for poverty-stricken families.  We are actively promoting this grant opportunity – which a gift of donated time and talent – to nonprofits in the D.C. area as well.

Q:  As an active board member, what has been the most rewarding part of joining Capital Cause?

A: I work with a stellar team of Changemakers who are serious about achieving the Capital Cause mission.  Though each person has their specific roles and responsibilities, board members choose not to work in silos.  Together we brainstorm solutions to challenges and create opportunities from roadblocks.  In the past, I have joined boards where having a title usurps the importance of doing the work.  Capital Cause is a refreshing change from this, and I am honored to be a part of this group of servant leaders.  I see the value of philanthropy daily, when I watch my colleagues work selflessly to improve the lives of others.

Kezia M. Williams is a community leader, young philanthropist, and social entrepreneur, who has experience working in the fields of nonprofit management and organizational development. As Chairwoman of Capital Cause, she has led the growth of the organization from five vested members to over 3,000 young professionals committed to employing young philanthropy to affect real change.  For more information about Capital Cause, please visit their website, join them on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter


When For-Profit Met Non-Profit October 11, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a fellow named For-Profit (FP). He was creative, handsome and had tons of money (me-ow).  One day, he was strolling down the street (counting his cash, of course) and bumped into a lovely woman named Non-Profit (NP).  Suffice it to say, it was love at first sight.  Some people gossiped that NP only wanted FP for his loot; others said that he was only with her because he pitied her.  Despite the rumor mill, their love grew and FP asked NP to marry him.  A year later, FP and NP welcomed their first child into the world: Corporate Giving (aka, CG).  As FP and NP gazed down at their son, they knew that CG would add to the fulness of their lives for many years to come…


Silly love story? Perhaps.  But before you judge my fiction-writing abilities, consider the real opportunities that arise when nonprofits partner with for-profits through the latter’s corporate giving programs.


According to Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2010, corporate giving rose an estimated 10.6% last year (i.e., $15.29 billion).  In taking a closer look at the data, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy found that 53% of companies gave more in 2010 than in 2007 (before folks began using the phrase “in these tough economic times” to begin every conversation).  Much of this increase is attributed to a variety of factors, including increased corporate mergers and acquisitions, a rise in donations of medical products to uninsured individuals, and a heightened sense of human need in the wake of natural disasters (e.g., the earthquake in Haiti).  While corporate contributions are still small compared to the support received from individuals and foundations, it remains a viable revenue stream for nonprofits to tap into.


So, what are some of the things that your nonprofit should consider in pursuing corporate support?  Check out my top three tips below:

  • Match Mission.  When researching corporate support, the process is similar to that of foundations.  You want to make sure that your nonprofit’s mission aligns with the goals and strategies of your corporate prospects.  For example, if your organization provides back-to-school supplies to urban youth, you might consider approaching the Staples Foundation in soliciting either cash or in-kind donations (e.g., folders, pens, etc.) for your program.
  • Emphasize Partnering.  In my experience, I have found that soliciting support from corporations is a much easier sell than that of foundations.  While any giving program is designed to address a social need, with foundations the funding pitch begins and ends with a nonprofit promising to partner with grantmakers to advance their shared charitable goals.  However, with corporations, nonprofits can emphasize how the corporate gift will not only advance charitable goals, but increase the company’s bottom line.  A perfect example is Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  Synonymous with the fight against breast cancer, the partnership between Komen and their corporate sponsors have undoubtedly raised the financial and marketing profiles of all involved.
  • Consider Dual Impact.  Now that I’ve gotten you all excited about soliciting corporate support, a word of caution is in order.  Before you make the leap in approaching a corporation, be sure to consider their track record in the community.  Has the corporation been involved in any fair-wage disputes (think: Wal-Mart)?  Is there a questionable increase in philanthropic dollars due to a proposed company merge (think: Capital One-ING Direct)?  If your nonprofit is at all concerned about the potential backlash of accepting certain forms of corporate support, then it is worth it to do your homework in the front end.


Now, it’s your turn.  What other tips would you suggest in seeking corporate support?


Time is Money September 13, 2011

Filed under: capacity,in-kind donations,strategic fundraising,volunteerism — fundtimes @ 1:36 pm

For nonprofits, volunteerism is the best thing since sliced bread, especially in these tough economic times.    According to a recent report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Americans spent a total of 8.1 billion hours volunteering in 2010.  This increase was most significant among Generation X (people born between 1965 and 1981) as they devoted 2.3 billion hours to service last year.  While one could argue that the economy has freed up a lot of time for people to lend to charitable causes, this may not necessarily be the case.  In fact, the data from this report is consistent with generational patterns about the volunteer life cycle (i.e., volunteerism rates tend to be high during the teen years, drop significantly during early adulthood, recover as individuals pass through their the mid- to late twenties, and peak in middle age).

So what does this mean for YOUR nonprofit?  Well, for one, this data affirms the altruistic value of most people.  Oftentimes, it is not the pursuit of the almighty dollar (or even a fancy schmancy title) that gets folks to put in their best work to forward your organization’s cause.  In a world where xenophobia and self-preservation reign supreme, volunteerism (like its play-cousin, philanthropy) is still a significant source of in-kind contributions for the nonprofit sector.  But, the previous statement is only true when you effectively manage this free-will offering.

Below are some quick tips to consider in soliciting and stewarding volunteer support:

  • Free ≠ cheap. While it’s true that you do not pay volunteers to work, this does not lessen the value that they bring to your organization.  Having said that, be mindful of the way in which volunteers are organized within your company.  If possible, consider hiring someone to recruit and manage your volunteer base or restructuring the responsibilities of your current staff to fill this need.  Still have to tighten your purse string?  Consider using social media (e.g., LinkedIn and craigconnects) to reach out to the volunteer community.
  • Leverage impact. Strong community involvement is a great way to show potential funders and donors that your organization is worth supporting.  And while reporting the number of volunteers that you have is a start, consider adding a financial value to their support as well.  Case in point: Civic Grind.  Launched in 2010, this social enterprise company was created to advance progressive growth in under-resourced communities throughout the Baltimore-Washington region through the civic-engagement of Gen X and Y African American professionals.  In its first year, Civic Grind ran a blog post about a local nonprofit.  One of its readers saw the article, reached out to the nonprofit’s executive director, and offered to write a grant proposal pro bono.  Shortly after that, the executive director received news that their proposal was approved and they would be receiving a $50,000 grant!  This story is a real-world example of the financial impact that volunteers can have.  
  • Steward well.  Since volunteers ultimately add to your organization’s bottom-line, it is imperative that they are treated with respect among your staff and board.  Have an annual fundraising gala?  Consider dedicating a portion of this event to acknowledging the contributions of your volunteers.  And don’t just wait until a public event to say “thank you”.  Let your volunteers know you appreciate them all year long.

How have volunteers contributed to the success of your organization?  What other advice would you offer on how to effectively translate their support in advancing your financial goals?