January 22nd, 2015
New Year & Philanthropic Resolutions
February 16th, 2012
February 16th, 2012
I was just 14 years old when I had my first success as a community organizer. Angry about major proposed cuts to public education in state, I co-founded a student organizing effort to “save the Oregon school system.” I was thrilled as we grew from 4 to 10,000 students in just 6 months. Together with parents, teachers and others from across the state we succeeded in stopping almost all of the proposed cuts!
So at an early age, I became convinced that you can change the world. I had found my calling. In college and grad school I studied politics and nonprofit management while continuing to organize, specifically around issues of public education and HIV/AIDS prevention. But then, when I was 22 years old, a call from my grandfather’s secretary offered an unexpected new way to make social change. She told me that my grandfather, then 81 years old, had “decided to let the younger generations get involved in the family foundation.” I was completely surprised. Foundation? What foundation?!
Even as I struggled with the implications of this discovery, I jumped at the opportunity to get engaged. I also discovered Resource Generation, a national organization that challenges and supports young people with wealth working for progressive social change. Resource Generation gave me the safe community I critically needed to explore what this new access to philanthropy meant for my life.
Over the next few years, I worked at nonprofits I deeply believed in including the 21st Century School Fund and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Yet I began to feel that I was making more of an impact through my volunteer work with the Council on Foundations, Resource Generation, and the North Star Fund than through my paid work as a nonprofit professional. I was also coming to realize that the resources in my life – from my family, our foundation, and my growing personal network – offered me opportunities for influence that are rare for most people, especially for someone my age.
I questioned for years with what this meant for my life and career. I had planned to be an organizer and took pride in that choice, but ultimately I realized that my biggest opportunity to effect change was organizing within the philanthropic community. I now had access to funder spaces that most organizers only dreamed about, and I could use that access to help bring new dollars to causes I believed in like economic justice, LGBTQ equality, and public education reform. I came to see myself as a “donor organizer.”
At the same time, I wanted to figure out how to do more with my giving. Sure I could make a few small grants each year through our family foundation…but could I do more? Hearing more experienced progressive donors like Chuck Collins and Tracy Gary share their own stories galvanized me to be both more courageous and more thoughtful with my giving. Their stories pushed me to both look at how much and where I was giving.
I created my first giving plan in 2004 and began updating it each summer. With great effort narrowed it to six areas about which I’m passionate:
- Organizing for economic and social justice in NYC, my home
- Human rights, with a particular focus on gender & sexuality and on political self-determination
- Social justice philanthropy and donor organizing
- Improving the quality of public education for students from all backgrounds
- Progressive political and electoral work
- Arts and cultural activities
As I clarified my giving priorities, I was also asking myself “how much is enough?” and “how much can I give?” The information I was hearing about my grandfather’s wealth, future inheritances, trusts, timing, and control shifted dramatically for almost a decade and varied wildly depending on who in my family I talked to. Even as my future financial situation was in flux, I felt compelled to acknowledge the privilege in my life and push myself to give more. Then I discovered Bolder Giving in 2007 and founders Anne and Christopher Ellinger helped me approach these big questions that had been previously been scary and paralyzing. While my giving had been creeping up each year, with their support I proactively decided that what felt right for me (for now) is to give 25% of my income plus gifts through my family foundation and of my time.
When Christopher and Anne invited me to join the board of Bolder Giving in 2008, I enthusiastically said yes. And in 2010, when the Gates Foundation gave us a challenge grant to grow the organization, I had the amazing opportunity to step up as its new Executive Director. I feel blessed to fuse my philanthropic and professional journeys into one. I know that none of us alone have sufficient money and ability to create the world we want alone. But I believe that as we inspire one another, together we truly can change the world.