Main Street Philanthropy – Session 6, the final hurrah! August 16th & 18th

What a week!  It’s hard to believe that this 6-week program has come to an end – it seems like yesterday we were introducing the concept to our students at McPhatter Middle School!  Nonetheless, here it is, and this week we got to pile into vans and drive to non-profit organizations to deliver checks.  I couldn’t be more proud of these students and the progress they have made in this program.  From never having heard the word to “philanthropy”, to becoming true philanthropists!  The work they have done in identifying organizations and evaluating them – both in subjective quality and the more objective measurement of their financials, they now understand more about investing in good businesses than most of us will learn in a semester course from a textbook.  (At least I’m convinced of this – but I may be biased in my opinion.) 

We were joined in our journey by Michelle and Joni, two wonderful individuals that were the benefactors of this program, providing the funds for these students to distribute.  They flew in for the day to meet the students and see first hand how they would be dividing the donations.  From their feedback, I think they felt very good about the impact that has been made on these students.  As I’ve mentioned in the design of this program, the actual donations are important, but it’s the process that the participants go through that is truly the value here.  The concept of Main Street Philanthropy can be used in any group, association, family, etc. 

One of the more interesting parts of the day for me was to observe how each organization handled receiving the funds.  We could quickly tell the level of experience that each have in fundraising.  Some knew exactly how to receive a donation – making the donors feel wonderful, appreciated, impactful, and wanting to do more.  Others expressed appreciation, but seemed to miss a bit on the opportunity that could follow.  I’ll enjoy hearing how, or if, they leverage this story into more donations.  The organizations that were selected: San Diego Humane Society, Father Joe’s Village, Becky’s House, PLNU Health Promotion Clinic, ARTS (A Reason to Survive), & Playwright’s Project.  All great organizations!

All that said, this day was about these students getting to reap the rewards of their hard work these past 6-weeks.  They won’t be getting a check to spend themselves, they’ll get something better: the gift of giving.  Seeing their faces and the pride in delivering checks is not something I’ll forget.  When we surveyed the class, nearly everyone raised they hands that they felt they would be much more likely to give of their time, talents, and resources in the future, as a result of this program.  I don’t expect to be able to track that to confirm, but if even one life was impacted, and that results in a gift that may not have otherwise happened, several more lives will be positively impacted.  From one to many; creating future philanthropists, strengthening bonds with each other – that’s what this is about. 

A fine day in my life!  Looking forward to the next group to participate!  ~RyP

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 5, August 11, 2011

Does a business with the best of intentions make for a good investment?  Entering Week Five of our Six Week Philanthropy Challenge, we set out to help students grasp the quantitative side of our evaluation.  They’ve identified casuses they’d like to support, located and visited organizations that support these causes, and have performed a level of qualitative analysis.  Now, it’s time to get into the numbers. 

Most non-profit organizations’ tax returns (Form 990) can be found on-line.  However, for most of us, sifting through a tax return has about the appeal of a root canal.  To make this a little easier for them, we first went over some basics on taxes, why we file returns, and what can be found in them.  We discussed what it means to get a tax deduction for making a donation to a qualified charity.  (Do you know the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit?)  Finally, we went through the returns for the organizations they had selected and visited.  While there is all sorts of information that can be pulled from an 990, we focused on a few key items: expense ratios -programs, management, and fundraising; the cost to raise $1, and their short term sustainability (how long can they last on liquid assets if fundraising and revenue was to stop – a situation some have come close to experiencing these past two years).  If you’d like a copy of our worksheet on Form 990 Quantitative Analysis, shoot me an email! (
I was extremely impressed at the ability of the students to jump into a tax return, pull info out, and do the calculations.  It turned into a fun, healthy competition over which organizations had the best ratios.  Who was most efficient?  Who would survive the longest?  In one case, a student made the observation that he had noticed while visiting that they sure could have used air conditioning in one of the facilities.  After doing his analysis, the organization seemed to be flush with cash, perhaps too efficient in some of their ratios, and probably could afford to add air conditioning.  Great observation; now we need to share our findings! 

Once we completed the math, it was time to really evaluate which organizations they would choose to support.  For some, the additional analysis had made them more confident in their decisions, for others, they were taking a second look at which they would fund.  Each group has two or three that they will choose from.  Some will completely fund a single charity, some will split evenly, and another will spread different amounts based on their analysis and findings.  As with any big decisions, we suggested that they sleep on the decision, and report back with their final conclusions.  Groups must all agree before any distributions are made. 

Next Tuesday, joined by the generous family that has made these donations possible, we’ll be climbing into vans, touring organizations, and delivering checks!  Seeing the progress and growth of these students is truly amazing.  They’ve come from little or no understanding of charity or philanthropy, and transitioned themselves into true philanthropists.  The comment we received last week, “I never realized how hard it is to give away money” was music to my ears.  They get it!  It’s not about hand outs; it’s about making an impact.  It’s about making sure that our participation helps those we intend to help. 

Do you donate your personal capital?  Time, skills, or financial resources?  Are you participating in charity or philanthropy?  Need some guidance in how to be more intentional with your giving?  I have a list of nearly 20 students that are qualified to help!  Week Six coming around the corner; good times! 

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 4, August 4, 2011

Week four, two remaining, and the world seems to be coming back into balance.  In this past week, our students have reached out to several more organizations, several have already visited them, and there is excitement in the air about the good work that they are doing.  While several of them are sold and ready to send checks, they’ll now be visiting a second and third organization to have a comparison.  There are a lot of great groups (several that could use some help in training the people that answer the phone), countless great causes, so this part should create a good opportunity for some critical thinking on which to select.

Our class session dealt with the difference between Qualitative and Quantitative analysis.  While most of the students weren’t familiar with these two words, they were quick to break them down into words they did know – quality & quantity in order to muster meaning.  They were right on.  We focused on the qualitative assessment that they’ll be doing while volunteering and visiting these organizations.  They were provided with the “23-Questions that should be Asked of an Organization before Donating.”  (Send me an email if you’re interested in receiving the list.)

Next week, we tackle quantitative analysis.  Most of this involves understanding how to take information from the IRS Form 990, a public document for non-profit organizations.  We’ll be obtaining data and looking at specific ratios that are important to an organization’s long term stability.  Program Expense Ratios, Cost to Raise $1, Revenue and Debt Ratios, Short Term Sustainability, and several more.  This might get a little complicated, but I think even partial retention for these students will pay off.  My guess is there are very few folks anywhere at any level that perform this level of analysis before giving.  Who knows, maybe one of these students will get hired for this work by a large foundation.  Or maybe I will!  ha ha!

The great piece of feedback this week from students was that “it’s really hard to give away money!”  How about that!  A great realization.  Anyone can write a check or throw cash at someone in need.  There is no shortage of need.  If I wrote checks to every person at the stoplight with a cardboard sign, would I be helping?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  Why not be intentional about it?  Let’s find organizations that with proper support that will make positive, lasting impact, and build from what we’ve done.  And here is the difference between charity and philanthropy!

Like the story of Oseola McCarty, I think that if one of these organizations recognizes what these students are doing and captures their story, what they’re going through and learning, they may have a wonderful opportunity to cultivate additional donors.

Thems my thoughts, penny for yours!

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 4, August 4, 2011

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 3, July 27, 2011

Week 3 was one of highs and lows.  Our students have made progress on better understanding the purpose and mission of this project, have identified organizations to investigate, and our guest speaker for the week, Geri Beaty of Event Innovations was awesome!  Unfortunately, it’s the organizations we’re trying to support that are coming up short.  First, the positive…

Cold calling is difficult regardless of the purpose of your call.  These middle school students have embraced this task of reaching out to organizations, determining who they should be speaking with and setting appointments.  It’s a difficult task that will serve them for the rest of their lives.  This week we had Geri Beaty come into the classroom and spend some time discussing the nuances that come with operating a company that is dependent upon volunteers.  It’s a different game than paying someone to work.  She brought up some great points about how each of our experiences in volunteering can have a lasting impact on the specific organization we’re working with, as well as the volunteer experience overall.  How an organization treats its volunteers, their level of organization with volunteers, and their appreciation are all reflections on their overall well being.  Our purpose in this portion is to get a “feel” for the organization – what it’s like on the inside, perspective of other volunteers, etc.  This will become part of our qualitative analysis as we determine which groups we wish to donate to.

The bummer part of this week came from the organizations themselves.  After multiple calls by students (as well as several by Mr. K), we are yet to have booked a time to meet with someone or volunteer.  Students have been transferred to voicemails, been told to call back another time, been given wrong numbers, and at least one hang up.  They are calling with scripts describing the purpose of their calls, that they are students, and that they will be determining if they’d like to donate to this organization.  It’s pretty disappointing to hear this feedback, though in my experience in working with other donors, it’s not all that uncommon.  Speaking with non-profit organizations, their number one concern in nearly all cases is better fundraising.  More donations.  Bigger donations.  Finding donors.  These are current and future donors calling them, wanting to give them money.  If someone called you wanting to write you a check, would you ask them to call back another time?  Really?  This shouldn’t be so difficult.

As a result of all of this, we’ve added a more detailed form for them to complete when calls are made to ensure we’re documenting the calls – which organizations, and to whom we spoke.  Not sure if we’ll use this to notify the organizations, but I’m guessing that would be good information for them to know.

We’re counting on a few orgs to step it up this week; time is ticking!  Check delivery is in three weeks; hope there are a few organizations that warrant the gift!

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 2, July 21, 2011

What’s the difference between charity and philanthropy?  What are the various types of organizations in the non-profit sector that we might be able to support?  If we’d like to give, how do we determine who to give to?  Or, in the wise words of Aristotle: “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power.  But to decide on who to give it to, how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.” 

Philanthropy is about being intentional and strategic with your giving.  It’s about giving such that the recipient will become independent of the need for your gift.  Accomplishing this is much more difficult than just writing a check to appease a request.  Our task this week was to break into smaller groups, three to five students, and seek clarity on the specific needs we would like to address with our potential donations.  Last week, we had everyone prioritize the issues they’d like to address – animals, health, community, education, international, human services, etc.  It was interesting to get questions about why they ended up in specific groups, when they may have been given their first priority.  When this was explained, a few responded that they had just filled out numbers without really paying attention.  Perhaps that’s my fault for not articulating the impact of their decision, but then again, perhaps it’s a lesson in itself that mental engagement may occasionally work out in one’s benefit.  Apply yourself; you will reap the benefit.  Submitting an answer without reading the question; may not work out so well…

After some group exercise, much of the time today was going over how to contact organizations to see about a time to volunteer in the next few weeks and/or meet with someone to learn more about how they impact our community.  I prepared a call script, voicemail script, email follow-up, and a crash course in cold calling and non-verbal communication when visible cues are not an option.  Pretty sure everyone is freaked out about making calls; that’s nerve wracking for everyone.  However, for future job hunting and quite a few jobs out there, phone and other sources of communication ought to come in handy.  The good news is, they’ll be calling organizations that are typically in need of volunteer support, talent, and certainly dollars.  They’ll also be calling folks that are in a career with some level of altruistic intent, so there should be some willingness to help a student working on a project. 

Students this week were even more engaged than last week.  I think the project is sinking in a bit and they’re becoming more comfortable in partnering with me.  There is so much to cover learn and share – for them and for me – I have a feeling the time will go quickly!  Guess that means we’re having fun.  (At least I am; hopefully at least one or two others are getting some enjoyment…)  ~RyP  

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 2, July 21, 2011

Main Street Philanthropy – Session 1, July 14, 2011

Today was the launch of our maiden voyage of Main Street Philanthropy with McPhatter Middle School in San Diego.  Mission for the day was to get to know the students, give them an overview of the project, teach a bit about philanthropy, and begin identifying personal values and areas of concern the world.  Quite a bit to tackle in two hours!. 

Here’s a quick low-down on what we’ll be doing for the next six weeks:

  • Have students identify their personal values and issues they would like to see resolved in our communities and society
  • Assign them into groups of 3 – 5 that share similar concerns
  • Identify organizations that share their values and concerns, then contact them to set a time to volunteer for, or interview with leadership of the organization 
  • Evaluate the organizations for long term financial stability
  • Decide in their groups how to distribute funds from our Main Street Philanthropy Fund – a fund that was made possible though a generous donation from a wonderful family with a heart for service and philanthropy
  • Through the sessions, we’ll teach and lead exercises about philanthropy, types of organizations, volunteerism, financial awareness, and all sorts of other tidbits.

The entire concept of philanthropy, the word itself, what it means, its impact on society, its origin – all this is relatively unknown or misunderstood.  I’ve spent a fair number of years working in the space and still picked up quite a bit in preparing for this course.  Going way back; in Plato’s will, in 347 BC, he left his farm to a nephew with instructions that the proceeds be used to support faculty and students for the academic institution he founded.  Ever wonder why Harvard University has been so successful with their fundraising?  With over 370 years since John Harvard gave a library and half of his estate to the school in Cambridge, MA, they’ve had a fair amount of time to develop their model!  In 1860, several women in Hartford, CT felt like boys should have an alternative to roaming the streets after school or work.  The result, the Boys and Girls Club of America!  The Nobel Prize, Julliard School of Music, the Rockefeller Foundation, Al Capone’s Soup Kitchen, Andrew Carnegie, the story behind Make-A-Wish Foundation, and more recently Bill and Melinda Gates’ contribution of $1 billion to the William H Gates Foundation – amazing stories that have impacted hundreds of thousands of lives! 

So, the history of philanthropy was a good discussion, but there is little more encouraging than speaking with folks, no matter what their age or background, about their personal values and things in the world they would like to see changed.  Getting middle school students to open up in front of peers and a stranger (me) is no easy task, but we eventually made progress.  They expressed an interest in ensuring that everyone has access to food and shelter, and that schools are given proper resources and supplies to make education as effective as possible. They discussed the importance of care for animals with no-kill shelters.  They would like to provide support to families that are facing terminal illness in a family member. 

I’m not completely sure everyone understands the full extent of this program, but it’s week one, and we have much ground to cover!  I can say that I’m thrilled to be working with these students; we have a great group – bright students that have all the potential needed to run with this thing.  They are also extremely fortunate to have Mr. K as their teacher.  His passion for helping them truly learn, not just memorizing facts and figures, but how to think, learn, gain wisdom and discernment is a tremendous gift.  He doesn’t throw fish; he teaches them how to fish.  His impact, and possibly that of this program may take some time, perhaps decades to be realized, but I do believe it will prove meaningful in the lives of all of those involved – myself included!  Until next week, ~RyP

Welcome to Main Street Philanthropy!

We’re bringing philanthropy to Main Street!  Most of us think that philanthropy is only for the ultra rich folks that want their names on buildings.  While these large gifts have done wonderful things for society and our communities, there’s more to philanthropy than that.  In fact, the word “philanthropy” has nothing to do with money!  Philos – love, Anthropos – mankind or humanity.  It’s not about the dollars, it’s about the intentional positive impact on mankind.  Further, while dollar donations are fantastic for organizations and critical for providing the servies, as the philanthropist, you may gain more from the process leading up to check writing than the check itself. 

Main Street Philanthropy is all about lessons we can learn in participating in philanthropy.  While the dollar figure makes an impact, the learning and experience is priceless.  You’ll be able to learn more about the program at our website (once it’s set up!) and join us as we venture through this program with our first group of students (and future philanthropists!) at McPhatter Middle School in San Diego!