By Kristen Seeber
Women’s Fund of Smith County
There is a common concept that individuals differ as to how they learn, how they best receive and process information. In our family, each of us has a different style. Our oldest son is an auditory learner. As a student, he took very few notes, preferring instead to listen to the professor and to engage in class discussions. Not surprisingly, he was a high school debater and still relishes lively conversation. A tactile/kinesthetic learner describes our younger son. He would much rather move, touch and act. He has excellent motor memory, learning quickly and permanently by doing. Even as a small child, he was extremely intuitive, and to this day has a keen sense of his physical and emotional surroundings.
When it comes to philanthropic trends, though, learning often occurs visually. Developing relationships is key to the experience, and personal contacts – face-to-face, eye-to-eye interactions – are the best teachers. To build a strong connection between a donor and a nonprofit, each need to see the other as authentic.
Credibility, capability and commitment are some of the characteristics a philanthropist looks for in an organization. No matter how outstanding a proposal or project may sound, a donor is looking for signs that the organization is reliable and trustworthy. Does the agency know what it wants to accomplish? What is the evidence that the nonprofit is currently achieving its goals? What kind of reputation does the group enjoy within the community? A donor wants to see an organization with a vision and the determination to turn that vision into a reality, with or without his particular gift. An attractive component is sustainability – a plan for continuing the project well beyond an individual contribution.
Aside from evaluating the organization itself, a specific project or program also should be evaluated on its own merits. Donors will want to consider if the project can be realized, if the budget allocates the resources required to complete the tasks and strategies outlined, and if the time frame seems reasonable. Most importantly, perhaps, is the significance of the program. Givers want to see and believe in the passion of the project and how it will change the organization, the clients served and the community.
A healthy nonprofit should be able to communicate its message to anyone – whether that be someone who can help it or someone who can be helped by it. Newsletters, emails and direct mail pieces are all effective, but a clear picture of the mission is best delivered personally. When evaluating agency program proposals, the Women’s Fund of Smith County includes site visits as part of the process. The application comes to life when we observe the environment and the people who make it all happen. Once a grant has been awarded by the Women’s Fund, the relationship goes deeper. We watch how our giving matters and see our grant dollars at work by continued visits to the agencies with whom we partner. These Grants-in-Action gatherings give members the opportunity to connect with the nonprofit and with those being served. Long after the grant ends, the relationship grows through our community impact efforts. Members serve as liaisons to grantee agencies to keep learning and to report the success of the grant award.
If eyes are the window to the soul, then the only way to see the soul of a charity is with the eye. Drop by to personally meet the executive director and staff. Serve on the board of directors. Volunteer. Sometimes our eyes speak for us, and there is nothing more telling than to look into the eyes of someone whose life has been changed because of an agency’s service. Being a part of that experience is a privilege. Showing benevolence and making philanthropy a priority will inspire others to do the same. All of us can model meaningful giving, because people are learning – in their own way – by watching, listening and doing. Regardless of your style, as Edgar Guest said, “There’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”
Kristen Seeber serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County. Membership is open to any woman who would like to join this collective giving circle that leverages the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change through high impact community grants. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org for more information.