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Month: February 2016

One is the loneliest number when you could just crowdfund.

One is the loneliest number when you could just crowdfund.

Yesterday, I got into a discussion with coworkers about an editorial that ran in The Boston Globe about two Boston-area philanthropists, Teddy Cutler and David Mugar.  Both Mr. Cutler and Mr. Mugar (ages 85 and 76, respectively) are responsible for two free, public arts events that take place in the city over the summer, drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands.  The first, Outside the Box, was established a few years ago by Mr. Cutler as his gift to the city, and was entirely funded by himself.  Riddled with some organizational issues, the festival has ultimately prevailed, but has enjoyed it’s fair share of scrutiny.  Four decades ago, Mr. Mugar established the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert at the Hatch Shell on the 4th of July, which remains a favorite Boston pasttime.  For it’s first two decades, the 4th of July Pops Concert was also solely funded by its original founder.  Mr. Mugar has struggled to find other funders to support the concert since.  

Both of these men, who are long time fixtures in the Boston political and philanthropic communities, have threatened to cease funding altogether in hopes that they will inspire local companies and a newer generation of philanthropists to pick up the slack.  Their threats have fallen on deaf ears, at least so far.

Central to the article are two subjects who represent a more traditional stereotype: old, white men with deep pockets who have an unfailing passion and commitment for something.  They’re great, in their own way, and in my opinion, they embody so much of what is special about traditional philanthropy.  But while I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but think about how this particular issue is just not one that’s aligned with the markers of Millennial philanthropy.  Why is that?  Because these men funded these projects on their own.

Crowdfinance has been a huge platform for Millennials as an entree into philanthropy, and on some level, I think that’s really great.  Online websites that have propelled the concept of crowdfunding like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and others have made giving sexy, accessible, and approachable.  With a snappy, compelling video and a goal that the collective needs to reach as a make or break threshold for any given project, it’s easy to be pulled in and seduced by the possibilities. Game-ifying giving has it’s perks too: on a site like Kickstarter, if you can’t get enough donations to reach your goal, then no dice.  By incentivizing friends and loved ones to help out, everyone gets competitive about seeing a project through to the end, even if they have no other stake in it’s success (other than, perhaps, pride in the project creator’s accomplishments).  

Full disclosure: I’m skeptical of crowdfunding, but not opposed to it.  My main hesitation stems from the rewards that are typically promised for participating in a crowdfunded project (i.e. “For $25 we’ll send you a t-shirt and an update!”).  Certainly it’s a new-age form of recognition, but I think it promotes a culture of “What do I get out of this?” ultimately perpetuating a nasty stereotype about Millennials that we’re only looking out for ourselves.

Now, it’s too soon to tell if Millennials are always going to be so keen on crowdfunding.  Quite frankly, Millennials haven’t reached their full financial potential yet, and until they do, we can’t know exactly what their philanthropic behavior will indicate.  But, I do believe that right now, Millennials probably feel that they’ll have more impact when their charitable contributions work in concert with others’, rather than just by themselves.  I’d even venture to say that being invited to participate in a crowdfunded project inspires more people to more readily give, with less hesitation.

So while it’s a bummer, truly, to read about the struggle that our local octogenarian philanthropists are having to sustain their passion projects, it just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that will be a problem for our generation.  What do you think?  Does participating in a crowdfunded campaign influence you?  Or would you rather fly solo in your giving?  Tell me more.  

Young, rich, famous & philanthropic: Does celebrity influence for social good make you get in formation?

Young, rich, famous & philanthropic: Does celebrity influence for social good make you get in formation?

Unless you got stranded on Mars, were left to fend for yourself, and defied the odds of botany by successfully farming potatoes on the red planet over the weekend, you probably saw that Beyonce came out with a new single and accompanying music video.  The video has already been analyzed by culture critics, which is chock full of political and racial commentary, as well as #BlackLivesMatter imagery.  And then, predictably, she “slayed” the Superbowl halftime show.  Needless to say, Queen Bey, we are not worthy.  

Once you were brought back down to Earth, and subsequently were reminded that if you ever were to put hot sauce in your bag it would literally spill everywhere, the next focus became grabbing tickets to her Formation World Tour.  But, perhaps the bigger realization of the day was Beyonce’s announcement via a press release that proceeds from the concert would go to support the citizens of Flint, Michigan and the current water crisis through her charitable work, called #BeyGood.

Before I go any further about this, “let’s get in formation” about a couple of things.  First, this is not out of step with Beyonce’s past behavior, and therefore, it jives with me.  She’s been charitable for a long time, focusing on Houston’s Third Ward, Haiti, New Orleans, and girls’ rights across the world, and she’s never been particularly flashy about her philanthropic activity, which I respect.  Most recently, she and Jay-Z have posted bail for activists in the Baltimore protests, and they have also given a large gift to #BlackLivesMatter.  The work Bey and Jay have done for various charities is outlined in various posts on her #BeyGood blog, and interestingly, all of the posts are geared toward encouraging the reader to take an active role by signing a petition, donating time or supplies, or hosting a film screening, to name a few.  You can even apply to become a #BeyGood ambassador (the responsibilities of that role are not explicitly stated).

What is compelling to me about the Knowles-Carter family’s philanthropic activity is not their intentions (which I have no doubt are benevolent).  Rather, I’m interested in the tone with which they present their involvement, as something that their fans should take an active role in, too. It’s arguably the only place that their incredibly well-built fortress of privacy and out-of-reach-ness comes tumbling down.  The seemingly unattainable air of next-level wealth and celebrity that they boast about in plenty of songs is lifted, and all of sudden, Beyonce is urging you, regular old you, to participate.

Beyonce is certainly not the first nor the last celebrity to make these kinds of overtures toward her fans.  Lena Dunham has famously been campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Iowa and is also a passionate supporter of Planned Parenthood.  In the past year, Amy Schumer has been outspoken about the need for stricter gun control policies after a shooting in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisana playing her film Trainwreck led to three fatalities.  Still more celebrities have been pointedly open about their philanthropy and activism to inspire their fans to follow suit.  And yet, interestingly enough, a recent study from The Millennial Impact Report has shown that only 3% of Millennials are moved to give to non-profit organizations who use celebrity endorsements.

So, maybe these efforts from celebrities trying to influence their fans are all in vain.  Maybe not.  I’m not suggesting one theory either way, and in general, I think more conversation about social impact is always better.  On one hand, I worry that Beyonce’s choice to funnel proceeds from ticket sales to Flint from her Formation World Tour is a half-baked way to get people to think about and/or participate in (however marginally) the crisis.  Would I rather see people choose to give aid to Flint directly without the benefit of getting a concert out of their actions? Absolutely.  But, on the other hand, I have no right to complain.  Has there ever been someone of her stature, her upper-upper-upper echelon of influence, power, and cultural clout, that has chosen to put “the message” – whatever that may be from month to month or year to year – at the center of her relationship with her fans?  Probably not.

Do celebrities’ philanthropy or endorsements influence you?  What do you think of celebrities using their fame to leverage an activist agenda?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It’s probably best to end this with words from the Queen herself, so when it comes to philanthropy, remember this:  “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”

3 organizations doing cool sh*t.

3 organizations doing cool sh*t.

With nearly 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the United States alone, it can be pretty overwhelming to try to figure out where to focus your philanthropic energies.  Every couple of weeks, we’ll be highlighting 3 organizations that we think are doing cool sh*t.  These will range in terms of cause or program – we’re omnivorous in terms of that stuff.  But, when it comes to engaging young professionals, these non-profits really have it down.  For this week’s post, we picked a handful of organizations in Boston, but we want to widen the lens and capture some other great ones elsewhere.  Got a non-profit you’re really proud to support?  Let us know, and we’ll highlight it in a future post.

  1. The Social Innovation Forum

Full disclosure: I’ve been crushing hard on the Social Innovation Forum (SIF) for a pretty long time.  SIF is a fantastic program that helps a half-dozen non-profit innovators build capacity and prepare for their next phase of growth through a comprehensive training program.  To select these innovators (through a highly competitive application process), SIF works with passionate, focused funders to identify areas of need, and subsequently, to find the organizations that are working in that space.  After non-profit innovators have been accepted, they go through an intense training program and work closely with specialists and consultants to meet their goals.  Short the long of it: Not only will your donations to SIF go a long way to help non-profits be more effective, but it’s also a great outlet to give time and expertise, too.  Plus, I’ve found tons of other great organizations I support directly through them – they’ve got their finger on the pulse, they’re smart, and they get things done.

2. Artists for Humanity

When you walk into the Artists for Humanity (AFH) Epicenter in South Boston, it’s hard not to immediately be drawn in.  Committed to providing studio space for under-resourced Boston youth to create art, AFH has employed over 3,000 young people in its 24-year existence.  In addition to the thousands of talented teen artists they’ve empowered through their program, AFH has also reached 12,000 other young people through their cultural programs and youth in enterprise activities.  Short the long of it: AFH’s mission to bridge socio-economic and racial divides for urban youth is effective, powerful, creative, and is leaving the world a little more beautiful as a result.  You can purchase art and directly support a teen artist, or get involved in their new young professionals group, the Luminaries.  And for a pro tip – their event space is next level gorgeous.  If you’re looking for a different space to host an event, get married, or just have an intimate dinner party, I highly recommend it.

  1.  InnerCity Weightlifting

What moves me most about the power of the non-profit sector is the ability to approach real problems that feel insurmountable in unique, interesting ways.  InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) is a great example of one of those organizations.  Founded by a Millennial, ICW “reduces youth violence by offering proven risk young people a meaningful career track in personal fitness training, and through the gym, connects our students with new networks and opportunity. By replacing segregation and isolation with economic mobility and social inclusion, we disrupt the system that leads to urban street violence.”  Their wonderful mission and the results they’ve had in a few short years really speaks for itself: 154 “high-risk” students have been trained through their program, boasting a client list of over 260 people.  Short the long of it:  Next time you’re working on your fitness, consider signing up for personal training services at ICW – their session packages are pretty affordable compared to other gyms in the area.  Or, just donate.