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.