What do I consider philanthropy?
For me, it is the budgeting of a percentage of my family’s financial resources, donated yearly to nonprofits that are pursuing missions we agree are important and are being done well. My personal time and volunteer efforts may come along with this financial support (statistically, many people do give more to nonprofits where they volunteer), but it is not guaranteed. My husband jokes that I work more hours than he does in his full-time job, but mine are much more variable!
You have limited resources and only you can decide what is the best way to use them!
I started thinking of myself as a philanthropist through my work with Impact Austin. This is a collective giving group that gathers 500 or more women together who donate $1250 ($1000 to grants and $250 to overhead) and cumulatively give out half a million dollars or so a year in high-impact, targeted grants to nonprofits in the Central Texas area. Sounds kind of magical, doesn’t it? Few of us are wealthy, some are budgeting each month to make their yearly commitment, but most of us are in the middle. We can write that check but it definitely takes away from other charitable things we could do.
Why do women choose Impact Austin?
The organization has done membership surveys over the years, and the reasons line up consistently:
- First, these women wanted to make an impactful difference. $500,000 was much more than they could ever have donated alone, and they wanted to see measurable results that showed their grants were making a difference.
- Second, these women wanted to learn more about nonprofits, grants, philanthropy, what makes a good program. They wanted to know how to interpret what they read about these organizations.
- Third, these women were interested in the community and friendship they could find with other like-minded women. Members shared their positive experiences and stories with their friends, who told their friends, and so on. In sixteen years, Impact Austin members have poured millions of dollars into the nonprofit community and along the way, they did two things that may have been even more important. They helped nonprofits improve processes, communication, and grant seeking skills and they educated women who became volunteers, board members, and even philanthropy leaders.
I know this is true because I am one of them.
When I joined Impact Austin in 2005 (for 2006 grant year) I had recently accepted the challenge of being the founding board President at Seedling. With only PTA and previous business experience to guide me, I was looking for information and mentors!
Impact Austin taught me how to evaluate nonprofits, programs, and grants in my first year of being on a Grant Review Committee. It was like a certificate program in philanthropy with friends and potential mentors thrown in as a bonus. I shared the best practices I learned at Impact Austin with Seedling as we set up governance, transparent financials, and everything else related to the Board. Metrics were expected and the clear mission and vision attracted people who got enthused about the Seedling program.
They joined as Mentors, Board Members, Officers, and Supporters! Seedling founder, John Blazier, had a vision of the community joining with the school district to support children challenged by parental incarceration. Together, the initial board and staff made that happen in a research-driven, school-based mentoring program that has affected the lives of thousands of these children and their families. I continue to support Seedling both as a member of their Advisory Council and as a mentor to a treasured little first-grade girl!
In 2017, Seedling won a Catalyst grant from Impact Austin and it was such a proud day for me. The coordination of two organizations I cared deeply about in an effort that would carry one into the future and serve as an example for the other of what their high-impact and visionary grants can do.
I frequently serve as a mentor or resource to women who are entering philanthropy for the first time or to women philanthropists who have been active but have recently relocated to Austin.
The first question I ask (particularly of the former) is “What is your passion?” Sometimes they haven’t thought about it that way, although they may have some general causes that they support. I often recommend dipping their toes into the Impact Austin waters, because I consider it a fabulous introduction to the needs of the community, the nonprofits who work to meet them, and their fellow philanthropic women.
No matter what they choose to support, I encourage them to do their homework and before they start something new (this happens more than you might guess), to survey the landscape and see who may already be doing that work. You may be able to bring your resources and energy to an existing nonprofit and leverage it to accomplish so much more than you can by starting from scratch. Resources are finite, but needs seem to have no limit. The Central Texas area has many nonprofits, and it is likely you will find a partner that will get the results you are looking for so much faster and more efficiently.
How about you? Is it the time in your life to become a philanthropist? A board member? A volunteer? An informed leader?
I would love to hear about it!