Why We Give celebrates women’s roles in philanthropy

Virtual program offers insight about charitable giving in South Jersey

One of the earliest programs to fall victim to COVID cancellations back in March, Why We Give finally got its day with a virtual panel Oct. 23, where participants shared ways to get involved in the community and emphasized why it’s important to be civically active.

Impact100 South Jersey organized the presentation celebrating South Jersey women who have dedicated themselves to philanthropy. It was the first step to increase awareness of how various residents and organizations are working together for equity, equality and a promising future for all.

“Giving takes place within communities: The communities aren’t always geographically based but they are often formed around commonalities of gender, culture or religion, commonalities of experience and world views,” said event chair Kyle Ruffin. “The giving community you belong to meets a basic human need to join with like-minded people around a like-minded cause.”

She was joined by keynote speaker Dr. Debra J. Mesch, moderator and PHL17 anchor Jennifer Lewis-Hall and two panels representing an array of backgrounds and charitable endeavors. The two-part discussion allowed ample time to discuss not only the why but also the how of giving.

Mesch highlighted three key tenets in women’s charitable work: combining resources, inviting others to join and public visibility, all of which benefit from a strong community around a spearheading figure or shared cause.

“All the event partners for this program are part of a national ecosystem of women problem-solvers, innovators, creators and leaders who help their communities across the country and the world in addressing these terrible, pressing challenges that we face today,” said Mesch, a professor of philanthropic studies and the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy.

Mesch’s presentation highlighted the differences between how men and women approach philanthropy, providing insight into getting the most from dedicated people by tapping into their strengths.

“When individual women and nonprofit leaders understand and embrace the who, why, how, where and so what of gender differences in philanthropy, we will together change how philanthropy is practiced and ultimately raise more dollars for the causes that we so passionately care about,” she concluded before inviting  audience members to submit their motivations for charitably giving their time and money to causes with which they feel personally connected.

The women contributing to the conversation represented a “diversity of giving … right in our backyard,” according to Ruffin, and their collaborative efforts showcased the power of a community taking “parallel journeys” to maximize individual efforts in working toward shared goals.

Joanne Ceaser of Delta Sigma Theta’s South Jersey Chapter, Suhag Shukla of Hindi American Foundation, Sydria Schaffer of Jewish Community Foundation, Fran Sykes of Pascale Sykes Foundation and Shani Nuckols of Moms Demand Action all shared in the event’s first moderated conversation, Why We Give.

“I give because, through none of my doing whatsoever, I was blessed, so in a sense, what I have is not mine: It was given to me, I didn’t deserve it and I am merely a custodian to using it in a responsible way,” said Pascal, whose foundation assists low-income families.

Panelists spoke of the empathy, camaraderie and passion that drives them to focus on nonprofit work, echoing many of the points Mesch’s keynote presentation touched on.

“In our organization, we are bonded by community service,” said Ceaser, explaining how the Delta Sigma Theta sorority unites its members in the lifelong pursuit of helping others.

Panelists shared the insights that giving once has a ripple effect on the future, as those who benefited from a scholarship or help getting over a devastating hurdle pay that kindness forward within their own communities.

“You think about not just (giving) for today, but what that means generationally moving forward. It can change not only a person, a family, a community, a block — it changes a lot,” observed Lewis-Hall. “If you see a need, step up.”

The second panel, How We Give, drew upon the experience and perspectives of Sharon Hopson of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Janice Wardle of Continental Societies’ South Jersey chapter, Kim Moon of Impact100 South Jersey, Marla Meyers of Jewish Family & Children Services of SNJ and Suzanne Ghee of Thrive Public Affairs.

With so many worthy causes in need of support, Lewis-Hall asked the panelists how they determine where to allocate resources. Ghee explained that during her 20 years of working in the nonprofit sector, she’s learned how to “address the root cause” of a particular need.

“Seeing the things that work well in the community … really helped evolve what Thrive does today for community organizations in helping to look at the authentic need, and looking at how we can make sure that we fundraise and make sure it’s sustainable to help those organizations deliver community initiatives,” she said.

Meyers added that with “so many priorities,” volunteers in general and women specifically are selecting their charitable causes not just on the basis of a shared mission, but the potential to inspire the next generation of givers.

“So many times in our organization, it’s the mothers, and the fathers, too … saying ‘We want to get the kids involved,’” she said. “They’ll bring the children to the food pantry and the child might do a project with their youth group and collect food to give to us, or they might make bags for our domestic-violence clients who might need a safety kit so they can flee quickly.”

Wardle added that encouraging volunteers to follow their hearts for a more organic, sustained effort benefits charitable organizations’ pursuit of their missions and avoids volunteer burnout.

“One thing that I try to do is empowering our members and allowing them to choose their own passions,” she said. “That helps motivate them in their passion, and then understanding that every member doesn’t have to be involved in every single project.”

The end of the program revisited that necessity of following a natural interest and being guided by an innate passion to provide the most successful long-term, individual philanthropic support.

“You get in where you fit in,” advised Hopson. “Do something you’re passionate about because when you find that you have passion for something, you’re always going to give 100 percent.”

Proceeds from the event’s registration fees raised $2,000 for the South Jersey COVID-19 Response Fund (managed by Community Foundation of South Jersey) and Jewish Children & Family Service’s Project SARAH Domestic Violence Program.