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Why should you support your college every month, and not just in March? Part 2.

Why should you support your college every month, and not just in March? Part 2.

My five-year college reunion is coming up in June, and whenever I think about that I feel myself doing a double take and saying, “Where did the time go?” I had a wonderful college experience, and I look to that time as one that helped shape the person I’ve become.  Even still, there’s something about giving to Brandeis, my alma mater, that feels a little different than my other philanthropy.  I know I share that sentiment with many of my peers who are often hit up by their respective universities for donations.  A lot of people feel put off by that, especially given the rising costs of tuition, the continuous looming weight of shouldering their loans, and the understandable argument that if they’ve graduated, they won’t be the people benefiting from the school, so what’s the point of giving?  I asked my friend and former classmate Aaron Louison to help people understand why giving to their school is a good idea.  This is the second part of Aaron’s article, the first part of which can be found here.  Aaron is the Associate Director of Annual Giving at Brandeis University.  

These are some of the top reasons why you should care about your university’s declining alumni participation rate:

  1. A smaller donor pipeline decreases the likelihood of major alumni donors to exist in the future.

Many millennials say, “I want to give, just not now.” Or, “I’ll start giving once I have more money.” The problem with these assumptions is that it’s often incorrect. Research shows that an individual is much more likely to donate larger amounts later in life if they had been donating smaller amounts all along the way.

Take philanthropists Carl and Ruth Shapiro for example. They made their first donation of $10 in 1950, even though it was all they could afford. It is likely the tens of millions of dollars that the Shapiro’s gave to Brandeis University fifty years later may not have happened had it not been for their early philanthropy.

So if your goal is to eventually become a powerful philanthropist when you strike it rich, you should begin building your own philanthropic pipeline now. And if it’s not you, then you should encourage your friends to make their own small gifts now, because if they make it rich, you’ll want them to give back, won’t you?

  1. More alumni participating means more dollars for students

Yeah, your $10 gift won’t mean much on its own. But the beauty of being part of an alumni community is that you’re not alone. For some of the larger schools like Boston University, there are over 300,000 alumni. With a community that big, just 1% of them (3,000) giving $10 results in $30,000 for the school. That means as long as everyone does their part, one student can receive a significant aid package.

  1. Your school doesn’t have a better way of measuring alumni satisfaction

Just like any company, universities care about “Customer Satisfaction.” Alumni, a college’s “customer,” are the prior recipients of the school’s educational product, and the next generation of students wants to know how much these prior “customers” enjoyed their experience before embarking on a similar one themselves.

How does one measure college satisfaction? Surveys are nice, but they have issues. Methodology is often flawed and multiple choice doesn’t tell the full story. Instead, by looking at the number of alumni who give back each year, a university can truly say what percentage of its former “customers” enjoyed their experience. Rarely does someone donate money to a cause that they don’t believe in.

It is for this reason that US News and World Report includes the alumni giving rate in their overall ranking of each school. Giving back every year helps your school improve in the rankings.

  1. Fewer donors means fewer dollars available for student scholarships

Believe it or not, your expensive tuition bill does not come close to covering the full cost of your college education. Thanks to fundraising, your college was able to offer more programs and resources than they could have relying on tuition money alone. At private non profit four-year schools, tuition revenue pays for less than 1/3 of the university’s expenses.

By relying less on tuition, your school is able to become more and more need-blind in its admissions policy. If your school can accept more students regardless of their ability to pay, the quality of students goes up, and the academic environment improves.

You may ask “Well how can universities still be charging so much if it doesn’t even cover the full budget of the school?” This is a fair question, but what is rarely covered in the media about rising tuition bills, is that financial aid often rises in conjunction with it.

In 2012-2013, the average aid package was around $13,000 per year. The more elite schools offered even more generous financial aid. Dartmouth College offered an average of $46,000 in financial aid in the 2014-2015 academic year, enabling the average student debt after four years to be just over $20,000.

If you graduated with little debt compared to what could have been without financial aid, consider thanking the generosity of your university’s community. And remember, that you’re part of that same community once you graduate.

But merely supporting a school because you care about its rankings is not even half of the story. Philanthropy is a touchy subject. It’s deeply personal, and for millennials it’s often inconceivable. But philanthropy doesn’t need to be large to be important.

Giving back is your way of making your voice heard. It’s your way of declaring your own support for the causes that you believe in and for the organizations that made you who you are.

There are more people going to college today than ever before because of the life-changing opportunities a bachelor’s degree makes available. If your college education truly opened doors for you, personally or professionally, you have an organization to be grateful for, and one which should be on the top of your philanthropic priority list. You will only be able to say that it was at college that you spent four years of self-exploration, introspection, and becoming the real “you.” If your college changed you, you should support it. There is an entire generation of students following in your footsteps now who will be equally as changed by sharing the same great experiences you had.

Why should you support your college every month, and not just in March?

Why should you support your college every month, and not just in March?

My five-year college reunion is coming up in June, and whenever I think about that I feel myself doing a double take and saying, “Where did the time go?” I had a wonderful college experience, and I look to that time as one that helped shape the person I’ve become.  Even still, there’s something about giving to Brandeis, my alma mater, that feels a little different than my other philanthropy.  I know I share that sentiment with many of my peers who are often hit up by their respective universities for donations.  A lot of people feel put off by that, especially given the rising costs of tuition, the continuous looming weight of shouldering their loans, and the understandable argument that if they’ve graduated, they won’t be the people benefiting from the school, so what’s the point of giving?  I asked my friend and former classmate Aaron Louison to help people understand why giving to their school is a good idea.  Aaron is the Associate Director of Annual Giving at Brandeis University.  

With the 2016 NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament having wrapped up this week, students and alumni from 68 different colleges and universities have been passionately rooting for their alma maters to make a storybook run into the Final Four. Despite so much pride for their collegiate basketball teams and with the tournament in 2015 reaching its highest viewership in 22 years, this athletics pride has not translated to these same alumni giving back to support their schools.

Most alumni from any reputable college will tell you that they had the best time as undergrads. From the parties to academics, and making life-long friends, it is hard to find any college grad who says that their four years on campus weren’t some of the most exciting and transformative of their lives. With more Americans attending college today than ever before, one would expect that the number of alumni who give back to their school would also grow. But current research shows a long-term trend of declining numbers of alumni donors to their undergraduate institutions.

Higher education has transformed over the last few decades from the traditional training in the liberal arts to an emphasis on career-focused instruction. This change has impacted the affinity graduates have with their alma maters from one of life-changing education to career preparation. While both are important, donors require a deep connection to an institution in order to give.

From a university’s perspective, the problem is two-fold: 1. Declining numbers of donors, and 2. Increasing numbers of alumni. Over the last thirty years, enrollment has increased industry-wide from 26% to over 40%. This, compounded with the declining numbers of donors, stresses a university’s top-indicator of alumni satisfaction: Alumni Participation Rates (Total Alumni Donors/Total Alumni of Record).

But why should you care? “My university’s alumni participation rate has no impact on me,” you might say. While this may be true in a direct sense, indirectly, it has a huge impact.

Next week, Aaron shares more about why you should care about your college’s fundraising efforts.  Tune in!  Have a question for Aaron?  Send ’em to and we’ll pass them on.  

Everyone loves a good party.

Everyone loves a good party.

Full disclosure: I love a good event.  I like the whole process of getting ready for them.  I like picking out an outfit and I like getting my hair done and I like figuring out where to eat before the event and I like knowing who all is going.  I like imagining what could happen at the event itself.  Maybe the DJ will be on point and I’ll have an incredible time dancing the night away.  Maybe I’ll meet a tall, dark stranger who will be the man of my dreams.  Maybe maybe maybe.

Have I struck a chord?  I feel your nods of recognition.  Events are fun.  The prospect of them is titillating, and by the time you reassure yourself that the $100+ ticket was going toward a worthy cause, you’ve gotten too drunk off the open bar that was promised to you to worry about how much you spent to be there for two and a half hours (because, truth time, between Drybar running behind for your blow-out appointment, and trying to coordinate how to get 20 people into Ubers from the pre-game your friend hosted at their apartment, you got there at least an hour late).  They provide you with something different to do on a weekend night, a surefire way to mix things up, and they make you feel fancy.  All this liking and snapping and gramming is making us crave contact – so why not dress up to do so?

And yet, nothing I mentioned about the appeal of an event had anything to do with the reason for the event itself.  Events have become the answer to the question: how do we engage people in our cause in an exciting way?  As a young fundraiser who is often saddled with the responsibility of coordinating events for donors, I totally get this logic.  By bringing folks together in a social environment where the liquor flows and the good times roll, a whole group of people then will have positive associations with and memories of your organization.  There’s a lot to be said for being able to build a lot of good will in a very short span of time.

The other side of that coin is that events are a lot of work, a lot of “much ado.”  And depending on the bandwidth the organization’s staff has, the harder events are to implement.  Plus, events are expensive!  Seriously, they are no joke, especially the idea of an “open bar” (just ask anyone trying to find a venue for their wedding).  In some cases, non-profits that have the ability to leverage discounts may have an easier time at keeping down costs, and therefore netting higher profits from the event.  Even still, the costs of putting on a great event are high.

Then there’s the night itself.  The guests show up an hour after the allotted start time (blaming Drybar and Uber for their tardiness, as aforementioned).  They drink a ton, and maybe they pay attention to the speeches that are made.  It all goes by in a blur, whether you planned the thing or you’re just attending it.  And the chances of everyone who came truly understanding what it was all really for when they wake up the next morning, heads pounding from the buckets of champagne and jonesing for brunch?  Let’s be real, they’re pretty slim.

It’s safe to say that fundraising events are often some of the first experiences Millennials have with giving, and therefore, it’s important to talk about them.  There’s just simply too much to say in only one post, so I’ll be starting a series of posts that address various issues around fundraising events, including what to think about when you’re buying tickets to events, tales from the trenches of event fundraising, and advice on how to make your fundraising events more successful (if you’re planning them).  Check back!

3 organizations doing cool sh*t | Round 2.

3 organizations doing cool sh*t | Round 2.

The first time we posted about some organizations doing cool shit, we got a large response from people with ideas for who to cover next.  It was awesome to see that response, because it indicated to me that my peers are getting really excited about non-profit organizations that are on their radar.  Read on below for three more organizations that we think are doing cool shit.

  1. Resilient Coders – When we took a poll asking for people’s recommendations for cool organizations, this one took the cake.  It was so popular that I asked the founder, David Delmar, to chat with me more about what they do.  Resilient Coders‘ mission is to help young people from communities underrepresented by technology to prepare for technology jobs.  They do this in three ways: the first is through their high school program, an after school program that occurs on Tuesdays and Thursdays for high school students to pop in and out as they choose and learn computer skills.  Their bootcamp, which is an 8-week, all day coding bootcamp for young adults ages 19-26, targets higher risk young men who have been recommended by the Boston Police Department and Youth Options Unlimited.  After graduation from bootcamp, graduates are invited to work in the website lab, the third prong of their mission, which provides real coding and design work for real clients.  Right now, mentorship is available for highly skilled coders and young technologists.  If, like me, you can barely figure out how to use Snapchat, you can always donate.  

2. ArtLifting – It seems like everywhere you look, ArtLifting is getting great press nationwide.  A huge point of pride for the city of Boston, ArtLifting empowers homeless and disabled individuals by selling their artwork.  Their founder and self-proclaimed Chief Happiness Spreader, Liz Powers, literally lights up when she talks about the numerous success stories the organization has under their belt since they were established a few years ago, and in turn, she lights up a room too.  If you’re thinking about purchasing some new art for your place, consider buying a piece from ArtLifting, who not only has originals but also sells prints and posters.  They are also starting to spread to other cities.  Super cool indeed.
3. Catie’s Closet – My friends and I often talk about how difficult it must be to be a teenager nowadays, with all the pressure social media must place on how you look or what you say and do.  I think perhaps that’s one of the reasons Catie’s Closet appeals to me so much.  Recognizing that children are the largest age group living in poverty in the United States, Catie’s Closet wants to “improve school attendance and remove social stigma by providing an in-school resource of clothing and basic necessities to students living below the poverty line.”  They partner with schools to turn an unused room into “Catie’s Closet,” where children are given access to the room by trusted faculty members to pick out a change of clothes and toiletries to wash up.  The Closet is restocked by donated clothes on a regular basis.  There are currently 31 closets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, serving over 18,000 youths and teens every year.  To donate clothing (just in time for spring cleaning!) or money, learn more on their website.  

Got other suggestions?  Email us at to recommend more cool organizations!

April showers bring a lot of Marathon fundraisers.

April showers bring a lot of Marathon fundraisers.

I didn’t realize this before I moved to Boston five years ago, but the Boston Marathon is a really big deal.  It’s like an international event.  What?! I mean, I did spend half of my life in Texas, and I literally only run to the dinner table, so I guess my ignorance is justified.  But imagine my surprise when I realized the Marathon was so important to the people of Boston (and the world) that people took time off of work to host brunches and watching parties, or to go to the finish line, or to volunteer at the race at the crack of dawn, or even…*gasp* to actually run the thing.

Another thing I didn’t realize before I moved to Boston five years ago was that when you run the Boston Marathon, you either have to qualify for the race (really hard to do, duh), or commit to raising at least $5,000 for a charity of your choosing, and run on that charity’s behalf.  I have one word for both options: hoops.  Major hoops.  I know what you’re thinking: $5,000 doesn’t sound like that much – but it totally is!  Especially when you’re trying to raise money in a true grassroots fashion.  

A similar fundraising requirement is in place for events like the Pan Mass Challenge, another Boston-area classic, this time with bikes, benefitting cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  According to the Pan Mass Challenge website, the event raised an incredible $45 million in 2015 alone through it’s various events and races, which take place all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Riders must create a page that they are encouraged to share with family and friends, who can pledge donations based on the mileage accrued during their race.  

So this time of year, a lot of invites start rolling through on Facebook for so-and-so’s Marathon Fundraiser Benefiting X Organization, hosted at a place like Lir on Boylston, or the Pour House on Boylston, or Dillon’s on Boylston.  It’s exciting, and as an outsider with a lot of fit and fast friends, it’s a little overwhelming, too.  How do you say “no” to a friend who asks you to donate to their Marathon fundraiser when the money is directly supporting a cause they believe passionately enough in to run 26.2 miles for? I can’t even run 26.2 seconds without wanting to dramatically lie on the floor and never get up.

Participation in these events among Millennials is at an all-time high, with the Millennial Running Study reporting that over 18 million of the 42 million people who self-identify as runners or joggers are Millennials.  The majority of respondents to this study, done in conjunction with Running USA, stated that their primary motivation for participating in running events like the Marathon or the Pan Mass Challenge or any Boston Athletic Association events is to stay fit and to be challenged. Only 34% of respondents participated in a running event that supported a cause because it supported that – or any – cause.  

While these stats are interesting, and may have an effect on how running events are organized in the future, the question still remains about how to navigate the myriad fundraising events that may take place now.  To help you out, here’s a little “Choose Your Own Adventure” for how to make the most of April, otherwise known as the Month of Marathon Fundraisers.

If you’re a runner looking to host a fundraiser:

  • Consider hosting your fundraiser at the organization you’ll be running on behalf of, instead of at a bar.  Depending on the organization’s capacity, this could be tough, but if they have space for you to bring your donors to them, it will add a lot of awareness to your event.  Your attendees will have a chance to visualize the space where they work, and can mix and mingle with the staff in a space where the staff is comfortable.  That could lead to more frank conversations about the needs of the organization, and a much easier way for your friends to connect how their donation makes an impact.  
  • Can’t host your fundraiser at the organization?  No sweat.  Be sure to invite representatives from the organization to talk with your guests at your fundraiser wherever you do host it.  Also, invite them to speak about the impact this donation would make for them, so that your event doesn’t just turn into another drinking party.
  • Work with the charity to figure out what your $5,000 will be used for.  By having clear plans for what contributions will be used for, you and the non-profit you’re running for can clearly communicate with people who might be on the fence about giving.  You can never be too transparent.
  • It doesn’t stop after you’ve completed the race.  Once the race is over and the money has all been raised, be sure to reiterate your thanks to your donors by updating them on how you did during the race, thanking them for their support, and giving a report on how the non-profit is doing with the money that was raised.  

If you’re not a runner but you’re getting invited to lots of marathon fundraisers:

  • I’m all for participating in great causes, and supporting your friends who are being active and running on behalf of a charity is as great a cause as any.  However, before committing to all (or any) invitations you may have, consider all your options.  Are there people who might be running for a cause you are more passionate about?  Okay, then start there.
  • Giving is important, but you shouldn’t feel obligated.  If you’re finding that your Facebook Inbox is filled with fundraiser invites, consider putting a cap on how many you attend or contribute to.  I always say that while I love to have Millennials give at all, I also don’t want you to give because you feel like you have to – that doesn’t feel good for the organizer and it certainly won’t feel good to you as the donor, either.  
  • Set philanthropic goals for yourself.  If you’ve set a budget for what you’d like to contribute for the whole year, take that one step further and set a budget for what you’d like to spend on contributions to event fundraising like this.  You want to help your friends, but you also want to make sure you have room to make gifts for your philanthropic priorities later, so don’t spend it all now.  
  • Even if you can’t or don’t want to donate to a friend’s fundraising campaign, try to attend the fundraising event to show your support.  Write them an email before the event explaining to them that you can’t give directly, but will still show up for them.  I can’t tell you the number of times my friends have shown up for me to an event but weren’t able to give – and there was something about them making the effort that was even more meaningful than any gift they could have donated.
Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

It’s probably old news at this point that Millennials have surpassed all other generations in the workforce, now making up the majority.  Just last month, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine posited that the lines between work and play are becoming blurrier than ever.  Notably, Millennials rate the culture of their workplace to be just as important as the actual work their doing.  Part and parcel of the workplace culture?  The opportunity to participate in company “cause work,” a term the Millennial Impact Report uses to describe “any initiatives or programs that are charitable in nature.”

Cause work can look rather different depending on what a company can offer you.  Some companies may have a charitable giving match program that will match your contributions to an organization up to a certain dollar amount.  Others may allow employees to enroll in United Way or other similar programs, which offers volunteer opportunities and automatically deducts a portion of your paycheck on a regular basis, redistributing that money to an organization you’ve selected.  Some companies may even have company-wide community service days, or allow employees flex time to participate in community service activities.  Aside from a ping pong table and kegs (or, in other words, just a rough work week away from beer pong), these giving incentives and volunteer programs are starting to be billed as work perks as these companies heavily recruit Millennials.  And Millennials seem to respond well to these work perks: according to the study, 79% of Millennials reported feeling like their participation in company cause work made a difference.  

Employer-endorsed philanthropic activity in the workplace: how great is that?  Obviously, it really is great, and there are plenty of reasons why companies who have the capacity to support these programs in a meaningful way should offer them to their employees.  But there’s also a potential negative outcome.  The same report posits that “cause work in the workplace is often interpreted as team-building exercises.” Employees may see participating in company-wide giving competitions  or community service days as an obligation, which ultimately can, and probably does, affect the experience of the employees.  Furthermore, different genders express different motivations for getting involved in workplace cause work.  While female employees cite passion for the cause as a reason to participate in cause work, male employees cite incentive.  And how they give is different too: females are more likely to give to a cash collection bucket, while males are more likely than females to donate through paycheck deductions.  The report concludes in it’s key takeaways that “employers would do well to promote cause work as an opportunity to work with peers – to influence their female employees and managers – as well as offer cross-level opportunities that would engage males.”

What is specifically compelling about this particular report is the difference in how Millennial workers give by region.  As a self-described “lapsed Texan” living in Boston, I looked most closely at the behaviors of Millennials in the South and the Northeast, but the report offers insights for the West and the Midwest too.  The South, somewhat unsurprisingly, boasted the highest volunteer rates, and the region’s Millennials are also most likely to respond to incentives.  In the Northeast, Millennial employees participate in company cause initiatives the least of all four regions.  Respondents claim that they aren’t influenced by competition, incentives, or in their supervisors egging them on.  However, Northeastern Millennial managers respond more to incentives from senior staff for participating in company cause work more than any other region.  In short, the hustle is real, y’all.

An important detail of this survey not to be overlooked, though, is that a whopping 42% of Millennial employees in the Northeast report not being asked to give to or volunteer in company cause work at all, a full 10% behind Millennials in the West and the Midwest, and 24% behind Millennials in the South.  This brings up a real chicken and egg moment, and you have to wonder what came first…the lack of demand for a company culture of philanthropy among it’s Millennial employees, or a lack of someone simply asking Millennial employees to be part of a company culture of philanthropy?

As is the case with all of the iterations of the Millennial Impact Report, the research presents a fascinating picture of the behaviors and mindsets of Millennials throughout the U.S.  And for the most part, their findings align with their past reports, especially those that reveal how important skills-based volunteering and peer influence is to Millennials.  Companies who can create opportunities for their employees to use their skills will certainly find their employees have more positive experiences and want to come back for more.  Plus, the opportunity for team-building and healthy competition will appeal to both females and males, and incentives don’t hurt, either.  And as for companies in the Northeast, I think it’s safe to say that they could and should be presenting opportunities for more participation from their Millennial employees in company cause work.  So, Boston-area companies, take heed to the Golden Rule of Fundraising 101: it never hurts to ask.  

Skills-based volunteering: the currency of a new generation of givers.

Skills-based volunteering: the currency of a new generation of givers.

Ask most Millennials what engagement with a non-profit organization looks like to them, and they’ll probably say a combination of a few things.  They’ll talk about traditional giving (writing a check, making a donation, attending a gala).  Most likely, they’ll mention a volunteer day where they had the opportunity to mentor a child or paint a fence.  But, perhaps the biggest marker of Millennial philanthropy that sets my peers apart from generations preceding us is Millennials’ desire to also provide their knowledge and skills to help an organization expand and grow.  

Wanting to share what you’re good at is nothing revolutionary.  What’s unique about Millennials, though, is that they weigh all three of those aforementioned forms of giving as equal in value.  According to the Millennial Impact Report, 72% of Millennials believe their assets – time, money and skills – are interchangeable.  So naturally, a Millennial who doesn’t have disposable income to make an outright, more typical philanthropic donation to an organization would probably be really excited by the prospect of volunteering their time and energy lending their particular skill-set to that same non-profit.

There’s a pretty cool website that’s making that easy to do.  Called Catchafire, this database of skills-based volunteer opportunities allows organizations to post their specific needs.  An organization can vet volunteers who apply in advance in order to find the best fit for the project or consultation.  Projects range from a few hours, to several months, and typically save the organizations large sums of money they would have to pony up for a freelancer otherwise.  

Similarly, volunteers can share their resume or articulate the skills they’re already building that they wish to finetune, and search for opportunities that fit what they are looking for in a volunteer experience.  Through a comprehensive database that syncs up with your LinkedIn account, you can apply to assist an organization with their special project, or do a consultation for an hour over the phone.  Once you’ve started racking up volunteer hours, Catchafire even calculates the amount of impact you’ve generated in dollars.  The other great thing? You’re not limited to where you live to volunteer.  Catchafire features organizations looking for help all over, so through the ease and accessibility of the Interwebs, you can still make a difference.  

So far, I’ve signed up to do a phone consultation for an app called Coin Up, which rounds up each transaction on your credit or debit card to the nearest dollar and automatically donates that to the charity of your choice.  I also submitted an application to do another phone consultation for a Boston area organization who wants to maximize their event fundraising.  I opted into applying for consultations to test the waters, especially since my time is limited.  But I’m excited to see if I can be helpful to these organizations, and hear what they are all about.  

To check out skills-based volunteer opportunities, head to Catchafire now and start dropping some knowledge.  Do you have other volunteer or philanthropic resources you want us to highlight?  Email us at and let us know! 

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.