Beyond Giving

How donors can broaden the support base for their favorite charities.

There's no better way to help one's favorite charity than by writing a generous check every year, right? Well not exactly. Of course, charities want their mainstay donors to keep writing those checks, but there are a number of ways people can leverage their professional and social connections to provide greater support for charity.

While the biggest philanthropists can draw high-profile donors into the fold by throwing lavish parties and dinners, many less wealthy people have found remarkable ways to become effective advocates for charity.

Giving is personal, but it's also social. It's very powerful when people tell others one on one about the work their charity is doing.

Turning Visions into Reality
Most acts of advocacy start with a simple vision. Thirty years ago in Boston, retired executive Philip Gordon felt he could do something to help fund the area's struggling public schools. He started "Facing History and Ourselves," an organization that provides teaching resources to help students apply history to today's challenges. That organization now reaches two million kids around the world with an annual budget of $12 million.

But Gordon wanted to do more. In 2001, he helped launch EdVesters, a network of philanthropists and foundations that work to fill the public school funding gap in the Boston area.

"Our biggest challenge is in getting people to invest in public education." Gordon says. "Colleges and private schools have endowments, but the amount of money given to public schools doesn't even come close to meeting needs." In its first year, EdVesters raised $300,000. The second year brought $900,000. Now, Gordon is looking to break the $1 million mark.

One of the more inspiring stories of advocacy comes from Philadelphia, where a seriously ill little girl opened a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research. When she was one year old, Alex Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer. Through the course of her treatments, she was moved to give back to the medical community. So, at the age of four, Alex opened a lemonade stand to fund cancer research - fifty cents at a time. News of her mission spread fast - at first through local newspapers, then all the way to the Today Show and Oprah Winfrey where Alex was a guest. At the time of her death on August 1, 2004, Alex had raised $700,000 - very close to her original goal of $1,000,000.

Phil Arkow, Marketing & Communications Officer for the Philadelphia Foundation, which accepts donations on behalf of "Alex's Lemonade Stand", says that just since May 2004, the Foundation had received over 9200 donations. "Alex's Lemonade Stand is a marvelous example of the power of one individual," says Arkow. "It's testimony to the fact that no matter what situation you're in, you can also give back to your community."

There are a number of potential donors who are waiting to be inspired or challenged to give. Donors and charities can work together to find creative, new approaches to communicating their work and motivate these would-be givers to become philanthropists in their own right.

Adapted from an article for Community Foundations of America, Copyright 2004

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 21, 2009 in Aging | Arts and Culture | Education | Ethnic/Social Diversities | Performance Measurement | Philanthropic Strategy | Scaling Philanthropy | Permalink | Comments (1)


In the vein of giving your time and talent in addition to your treasure, donors and other community members in certain parts of the country can now use a website to get the word out as well. Operating more like a rather than a Facebook Cause, is a way for donors to tell the world their great experiences with the nonprofits they love most. It's also a place for people to talk about real concerns, should they have any, to deter other donors from shaky organizations.

Right now, the site is mostly used for positive feedback and promotion, but I look forward to a time when it can truly be used for philanthropists and even service-seekers to sift through the many nonprofits, where the cream of the crop really will rise to the top ratings.

Posted by: Shirley M.

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