Three Ways To Give Back During The Holidays For and With Our Kids

As November slips by, many of us have been occupied by autumnal activities — hunting down pumpkin spiced treats of all sorts, cozying up with extra layers of clothing, and cheering on a new season of fall sports. It’s also the beginning of the holidays with celebrations that are largely centered on giving, making this a great time to think about becoming a “Philanthro-Parent.” Whether you are a parent, teacher, neighbor, friend or relative, you can encourage the kids in your life to change the world for good and inspire them to give back in their own meaningful way.

And it’s not just about doing good during the holidays either. There are huge benefits for children who engage in acts of kindness that make generosity a valuable year-round pursuit. In addition to being healthier and living longer, researchers have demonstrated that kids who volunteer and “do good” have improved friendships and self-esteem, and perform better in school.

So how can you help the children in your life embrace the gift of giving? Here are three ways to make your season even brighter for you and your up-and-coming philanthropist.

Give better gifts
I’ll confess that if it weren’t for online shopping my niece and nephews would never see a box with an Auntie Louise tag. For many of us, there isn’t much time to run around to take care of gift wish lists, especially during the busy holiday season. But like with many things in life, we should take the time to slow down with our gift hunting. Let’s take an extra minute to make some of our purchases give back by using AmazonSmile (Amazon donates 0.5% of the eligible purchases to a charity of your choice). Let’s scour the wrappers for a fair trade label on that chocolate treat for our little snackers. Let’s do a couple more Google searches to find gifts that give back. It won’t be time wasted and we’ll feel even better once the wrapping paper starts flying. 

Share gifts
A lot of us take advantage of this season to donate gently used coats and cold weather gear as we replace clothes for our ever-growing kids, or to do a clean sweep of the toy box once presents are opened. Perhaps this year we can go one step further and encourage our child to choose one of their new toys or presents to donate. Or perhaps we can help our kids dream up ways to use their presents to benefit others, like using the new art set to create a poster for a fundraiser. We can tap into the power of choice that can actually enhance our kids’ altruistic endeavors with this twist on giving around the holidays.

Be a gift
Many of us learn better by doing, and it appears this is also true for giving back. Studies indicate that volunteering at a young age can create lifelong social and civic engagement in our kids. So, to help get you started, here’s volunteering ideas for kids from PBS, a list of thousands of children volunteer opportunities from Volunteer Match, a link to find your local food bank from Feeding America and a truly thoughtful curation of “40 Ways Kids Can Volunteer from Toddler to Teen” from author Laura Grace Weldon.

This holiday season, together with our kids, let’s make our gifts give more, share more deeply and be a blessing to others. We’d love to hear about your thoughts; please share your ideas on Twitter using #KidsGivingBack. Before I wish you Happy Holidays, I’ll let the infectiously joyful Kid President remind us that “The perfect gift is the something that makes the world better.”

Be Fearless Spotlight: YWCA of Northwest Georgia

This Spotlight is crafted in partnership with BoardSource and authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

It takes guts to stop a capital campaign right in the middle — not to mention returning the funds already raised. But Holly Tuchman, CEO and Executive Director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia (the Y), is a woman with a truly fearless approach to achieving her organizational goals.

Having opened the first domestic violence shelter in Georgia over 35 years ago, the goal of the Y is to empower women and work for peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people. With the support and dedication of their community, the Y’s work focuses on programs to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault, ultimately “helping clients lead safe, healthy and self-sufficient lives.”

When she arrived to lead the Y, just over eight years ago, she found a main building constructed in 1962 in desperate need of renovation and a domestic violence shelter with bunk beds so old and rickety that the Salvation Army refused to take them. Radical change was necessary, but she was determined to see it done smoothly, thoughtfully and strategically.

This was easier said then done. At the time the organization was losing $30,000 to $40,000 a month. “I had no idea it was as bad as it was,” she says. “After much discussion with our board of directors and community stakeholders, we decided to stop the capital campaign.” Tuchman returned the money to astonished donors, explaining there was now a new team and new approach in place.

Rooted in the new approach was the replacement of the Y’s swimming pool. A long-time symbol of a traditional Y and a fixture in the community, it was replaced with 12 transitional apartments for women fleeing domestic violence—giving them a safe space to stay while they continued to heal, live a violence-free life and work towards self-sufficiency.

Working closely with their engineer and interior designer, both of whom offered some skills pro bono, meant Tuchman and the Board could push for an attractive yet affordable final result all could be proud of. The shelter’s bunkbeds were falling apart; advised to keep them to save money, they insisted on new, more welcoming furniture instead. They were able to expand the Y’s training room space, counseling department, and office space for administrative and programmatic staff.

Tuchman, along with Capital Campaign Chair, Kim Gresh and a committed and compassionate board, re-launched their capital campaign with the new direction in mind. They infused the team with a real sense of urgency. “We just don’t ever stop! We work for our clients 24/7, 365 days a year. Our staff never quits!” As the only YWCA of its kind in Georgia, devoted to aiding women fleeing domestic abuse, “we’ve had many successes. But we have also had clients who unfortunately became a domestic violence murder victim. But we keep on going, because the next person needs our help,” she says.

Being bold and taking risks are essential parts of Tuchman’s professional DNA and have helped to make the organization stronger. “We launched our [new] capital campaign in early 2009, at one of the worst times we could possibly have started, and we finished it with no long-term debt,” she says. The campaign raised $7.28 million over five years, which allowed them to renovate their building and shelter. All renovation was completed this past May—bypassing the original sum of $6.5 million that a fund-raising consultant they’d hired had already told them was impossible. “It wasn’t enough,” Tuchman replied firmly. “We raised probably another $500,000 beyond that.”

But Tuchman doesn’t do it alone. She relies heavily on the expertise and energy of an unusually large board, with 30 members, eight of them men. Talk about reaching beyond your bubble! “When I first came to the YWCA eight and a half years ago, we had to petition our national organization to allow men to join our board.” She did so for a compelling reason: “We could have lost $1 million in donations if we didn’t.” In fact, when she began asking men for donations to the capital campaign, the pushback was real: “You want me to support your organization, but I can’t be on your board?”

That is no longer the case. In addition to the eight male board members, the board will also welcome its first male chairman in July 2016, the culmination of a lengthy process of conscious growth. “It was a combination of a couple of things,” she explains. “We started Y’s Guys, a committee of men who wanted to talk to men about domestic violence, and we created a men’s breakfast to get men involved in the issue. If we’re going to stop domestic violence men have to stand up and say ‘This isn’t acceptable in our community.’”

The board, which meets monthly, offers Tuchman and her staff skills most useful for “the big picture” like marketing, fundraising and finance. “They offer the strategy and our financial ability to sustain the organization. They’re not micro-managers. They stand along us and fearlessly lead.”

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Be Fearless Spotlight: The West Foundation

This Spotlight is authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

“We make big bets with small gifts,” says Emily West, executive director of the West Foundation, a 56 year-old Indianapolis-based family foundation working in the international community development sector. With assets of $6 million, a staff of two and four board members, the foundation doles out approximately 45 grants a year. Gift size ranges from $10,000 to $30,000 and grantees can be surprisingly unorthodox. Issuing non-traditional grants is one measure of their fearlessness, says West.

“Foundations, particularly small ones, tend to be quite conservative and often believe they must give only to large, well-established organizations to ensure that not a penny of their grant will be wasted. And yet small foundations occupy a special niche in that they have the luxury of gifting at lower levels and taking the risk to assist emerging non-profits,” she says, arguing that large foundations, such as Ford, Rockefeller and Gates, would find it impossible to help these organizations find their footing. “Imagine how many grants Gates would have to give at the $10,000 level in order to give away the amount of money required of foundations on an annual basis (five percent of the earnings of the fund). They couldn’t – they would collapse under the weight of the number of grants they would have to make and the mountain of paperwork it would generate. But at our size, it’s manageable.”

She adds that “Gifts to small organizations that have never yet had a $10,000 gift, whether made in the U.S. or internationally” can be a real game-changer. Once other funders see that what looks like a risky investment has, in effect, paid off, they soon step up with much larger gifts—making small family foundations like hers crucial as a first indicator of a non-profit’s viability.

A great example was their $15,000 grant to Ubuntu Education Fund, a U.S.-based non-profit serving Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It was the first of its kind for the organization, and provided a small program expansion to offer counseling services to children whose families included HIV/AIDS patients. Ubuntu was favorably evaluated by the foundation as it serves a city ravaged by HIV/AIDS with residents who are ultra-poor (those living on $1.25 U.S. or less). And it turned out that the foundation’s bet on Ubuntu was a good one, as only six months after receiving that $15,000 gift, Ubuntu was awarded a 60,000-pound grant ($93,951.00 U.S.) by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Today, Ubuntu has grown to become an important partner to the South African government in HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment, and has built a $6 million community center to further its work at the request of the citizens of Port Elizabeth.

Irish potatoes harvest woman kid_jan 2013

Taking risks on non-profits without a proven track record is all about establishing trust, says West. “With early stage organizations, that may take various forms,” she notes. “In evaluating the potential of an organization, you may see that they are very well organized regarding best practices from an administrative and/or programmatic standpoint, or they may have a business model that is extremely innovative. Sometimes you gauge the passion of the funder for the mission of the organization and have great faith in that person. There are many factors at play, and some are more tangible than others. Much of our work right now is devoted to nailing down exactly what they are so that we can promote them to our colleagues and encourage other small foundations to be confident risk takers.”

Embracing failure is also a necessary party of risk-taking, and the West Foundation has a philosophy on that as well. “We gave a $10,000 grant to Vittana, a young organization whose goal was to crowdfund post-secondary education tuitions for students in developing nations through new loan models with indigenous micro-finance institutions (MFIs). I thought it was a brilliant idea, and we funded their start-up in the Philippines,” West says, but the organization closed its doors within two years due to its inability to acquire funding for its model. Nevertheless, she sees that grant as a success. “Their model worked, and is still working with the Filipino MFIs where it was established, so good came out of our investment. Vittana also accrued much local knowledge of the field and has passed that on to other crowdsourcing organizations such as Kiva. So their work will live on to benefit others in the sector.”

The West Foundation has set for itself the audacious goal of becoming one of the leaders of a philanthropic movement to motivate donors to do more risk-taking, take a public policy approach by considering administrative as well as program delivery gifts, and listen more to what non-profits are telling them about their needs. In working towards this objective, they are formalizing their program for emerging non-profits so that they can measure the success rate of the organizations in scaling up their donation levels after receiving that first $10,000 grant. West is assisted in this by her program officer, Samantha Alarie-Leca, and her board members, all some twenty-five years her junior, but sharing her passion for assisting the Global South and her willingness to take calculated risk. “They are highly engaged,” she says. “They’re the ones who’ve provided the most input on developing our new program, and we’re very fortunate to have such an amazing group of young women devoting their time and energy to us.”

Only time will tell if the foundation’s current efforts will translate into dynamic change within the sector, but for the time being, West is happy with the direction she, her staff and board are taking. “I believe we are working towards a bold goal,” she says. “We don’t know of many others doing this.”

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Open Road Alliance

This Spotlight is authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.

It can happen to the longest established, best-funded and most carefully-run organizations—a sudden disaster that throws off months or years of planning, disrupting its ability to continue important projects. It might be an essential piece of equipment, a truck or generator, that breaks down and can’t be replaced using restricted funds. It might be a natural disaster that disrupts operations, with no contingency capital to address it.

Whatever the catastrophe, Open Road Alliance (ORA) stands ready to help, able to offer grants of up to $100,000—with decisions made within two to six weeks of applying. Their average grant is $76,000 and, since 2012, it has awarded $3.5 million to groups including the Global Press Institute and the Grameen Foundation.

“Those ‘Oh my God’ moments are where our funding is focused,” says Executive Director Maya Winkelstein.

The typical funding model “is not working on a micro or macro level,” she adds. “On a micro level, it traditionally takes six to nine to 12 months for a grant application to be approved and to access the capital. It’s so restricted and there’s no mechanism to address problems, so [when problems arise] that initial investment and all the work is lost. So, we provide that money. We’ll be fast and flexible and we’ll solve the problem.”

On a macro level, the inherent power imbalance between funders and applicants perpetuates a culture of obfuscation, she adds. “There’s a lack of transparency and honesty thanks to the very real fear NGO’s have” to be truthful about troubles they may face and need funds to solve.

Some ORA grants are also recoverable funds, offered at varying interest rates, essentially a bridge loan to pull a group through crisis—knowing that committed income from their funders will eventually arrive. That program began in 2014, scaling up in 2015, a response, says Winkelstein, “to what NGO’s told us they needed. We found that when organizations encounter these unexpected obstacles and need money the problem isn’t access to capital, but access to capital right now.” ORA offers these loans in three situations: when the obstacle is cash flow, when capital is needed for unexpected growth and when raising the needed funds would simply take too long.

Recoverable grants allow Winkelstein—and ORA’s founder, philanthropist Laurie Michaels, whose personal income funds their projects—to take much greater risks than other groups. “The opportunity cost is much lower,” explains Winkelstein. When a traditionally funded project fails or stalls, “you’ve basically lost a bet and that makes people risk-averse. We’re betting on impact, not financial return, because we use the same re-paid funds to make multiple bets over and over. It allows us to take more risks.”

But, like every funder, ORA insists on regular reporting. “When we accept an applicant, it has specific measurables for the short term and we talk to them four times a year, plus a full report at year’s end,” says Michaels. “We make as much effort to judge our [own] effort as anything else.”

Their decisions—made quickly, with applications accepted on a rolling basis—are sometimes a “no-brainer” and sometimes, Michaels admits, “we’re teetering on the edge of ‘Is this risk unacceptable?’ We don’t expect every project to be perfect.”

Michaels urges other foundations, and grant applicants, to be far more open and honest about their projects’ potential difficulties. “One of our goals is to have a discussion of risk, and planning for risk as a normal part of any grant application. At the moment, there’s no place to openly address what could go wrong. Not vaguely, but matter-of-factly so I know what they’re up for. What’s your Plan B? Plan C?”

The two—who work from offices in D.C. and Aspen, and without a board of directors—researched their unusual model for a year before starting the organization, consulting other non-profits and philanthropists to determine who they would fund, and under what circumstances. “One of the critical criteria is that the problem be unexpected. Could it have been anticipated? Some of our applicants’ stories are heart-wrenching, but they won’t get funded,” says Winkelstein.

“The unexpected is not a sign of incompetence, but a sign of the world.” After all, she adds, “the private sector calls it a pivot.”

“We believe that philanthropy is going through a fundamental shift, from a charity model to an investment model,” says Winkelstein. “It’s changing from donors’ desires and intentions to seeing this work as an investment, doing good to actually achieve results. That’s where the trends are and the more sophisticated funders are going. They use metrics and look at ROI, an attitude that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

In their autonomy, sense of urgency and willingness to ask tough, perhaps uncomfortable questions, Michaels and Winkelstein know they’re often working outside typical philanthropic norms. But for ORA, urgency is standard operating procedure.


Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Are You Ready to Change the World in 2015?

As we dive into 2015 it seems fitting to take a moment to reflect on the past year—to celebrate the big wins, learn from the losses and contemplate our collective impact on the people and communities in which we can all play a role. Last year, changemakers rallied together from around the world to make their own marks on the social sector—marks that left an indelible impression we call change. These actions inspired, challenged and drove countless people and organizations, including us, to make big bets, to take risks and to let urgency conquer fear.

In honor of 2014’s unique milestones and the organizations and groups that made them happen, we created a special video that highlights the big wins we achieved together and reminds us of the critical challenges that still remain in 2015.

We’re also celebrating the important work of the representative groups in this video by providing several of the featured organizations with awards totaling $25,000 to help them make an even greater impact in 2015.

For us here at the Case Foundation, 2014 will be remembered as a year of movement building through our advancement of impact investing; a year of action with the debut of a new Be Fearless Action Guide supporting the work of bold changemakers; and a year of learning as we forged new partnerships and explored new issue areas that impacted our work and that of the sector. Most importantly however, we will remember 2014 as a great year during which visionaries came together to help build a better world.

It is our hope that this video helps you reflect on your own impact in 2014 and inspires you to create the change you want to see in 2015 and beyond.