Creating Impact Through Giving Episode 8: Turning Donors Into Philanthropists

Dan Martel: You're listening to Creating Impact Through Giving, a podcast brought to you by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation providing you with the stories, techniques, and tools around impactful giving. On this show, we'll talk to donors, professional advisors, nonprofit leaders, and our team of experts to identify charitable strategies that have resulted in some of our most impactful gifts. 

I'm Dan Martel. And welcome back to the pod. We hope you were able to start this year with good intentions, found some time to relax and recharge, and are excited to explore more topics in the realm of charitable giving with us. In our very first episode, now it's been several months, we explored how people could discover their charitable passions and turn them into a legacy either by contributing to a fund, starting a scholarship or sustaining a nonprofit or cause in the community. So today we're going to take a closer look at exactly how that process works and the actual evolution of a charitable gift. 

What happens when donors come to us with a donation, but no initial idea on how to develop that legacy? And why should you speak to someone in our donor services team first, before dropping off your check at a nonprofit or an investment firm? We'll dive into that and some interesting case studies with Laura Moon, Donor Services Manager here at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, who works closely with donors to maximize their impact. We'll talk to her about what happens after the first conversation and how the Community Foundation works to execute those plans. And later stay tuned for our conversation with a donor who has done exactly that and grown his family's fund into a multi-year grant program. But first, let's chat with Laura about the process that ensures donors get to consider all the options available to them. Welcome, Laura. 

Laura Moon: Thank you. 

Dan: So you work with donors directly on a daily basis. 

Laura: Yeah. 

Dan: I know you hear from them directly about the thoughts and visions that they have for their charitable gift, but not all of them come to you with a concrete plan of action, so to speak. Would that be correct to say too? 

Laura: Definitely, like any decision, it's different based on the donor. 

Dan: Well I know that because you're in such close contact with these folks and they're so valuable here to the foundation, how do you guide that conversation? What is it that you're trying to communicate in that process? 

Laura: Well, it depends some donors come in with a more concrete plan. Maybe they know that they're coming to us for the convenience or the investment options. Other times a donor knows that they care about their community and that they need more information. So as a member of the donor services team, it's my job to take my experience working in the non-profit field for many years. And then also just my experience at the foundation, knowing what we do and how we do it and pairing those together with what the donor thinks they want and trying to find what suits them best. So sometimes that's a long conversation with lots of conversations with nonprofits, other community members, stakeholders that aren't the donor. Sometimes it's a very short conversation because they have more information and they kind of guide us. Sometimes we kind of guide them. 

Dan: So what I'm hearing you say then Laura, is you've had folks that have come in and said, Hey, I want to do something. I really don't know what I want to do. This is sort of my passion. 

Laura: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it's the arts, I love the arts. Sometimes it's very specific, you know, sometimes it's, I love the arts, but I love orchestra, and I love string instruments. Other times it's, I care about children generally and if that's helping them with education, if that's helping them with food availability, if that's helping them with access to arts. We're really happy to work with each donor individually and really cater to what they tell us they want. I mean, their passions are our work. 

Dan: I think that's probably the best way I've ever heard it put, their passions are our work. Talk to me a little bit more about the idea of turning donors into philanthropists. You know, that word gets thrown out every now and then, you know, he's a philanthropist. 

Laura: Well, the way that I think about it more broadly, is that when you have someone who has the opportunity to impact their community, but they don't feel invested in the community it's hard for that donor to feel like a philanthropist. But if you have a donor who knows about the community, lives in the community it's much easier for them to become invested and be that philanthropist once they start to see the change that they make because they live where they're making that change. It's easier for them to become more invested and make that transition from just maybe a one-time donor or occasional donor to someone who's really trying to impact the area that they live in. It's not always a short journey but it doesn't have to be. 

Dan: I understand. And I'm sure that, you know, in the years of your experience here at the foundation and your background too, you've probably heard all kinds of interesting stories that have come across your desk. 

Laura: Definitely. 

Dan: So what kind of expertise can we offer in addition to the different investment in fund types? 

Laura: So, I mean, obviously we have the investment and the convenience of a donor-advised fund or any other type of fund, but also our staff expertise, my colleague, Jennifer Stewart has, you know, worked here for 20 years. My colleague Joe has worked here for, you know, nearly 20 years as well. I come from a strictly non-profit background. I worked at program nonprofits. I worked in the Oklahoma City community. So we have knowledge based on the experience that we have here at this job, but then also at other jobs where we had our hands in it and we knew what was going on. Because of that, we have numerous conversations with over 300 nonprofits in the Oklahoma City community as our profession. I mean, a donor, oftentimes their day-to-day job isn't talking to 300 nonprofits about, what are you doing? Why is it important? What type of impact are you making? And how can we make that easier for you? We can compile it for a donor and we can deliver it to them succinctly so that the donor can make a better decision about how they're gifting. So we're able to provide that because we're here, we live here. Fidelity, they're wonderful, they just don't live here and they don't have the, not just the institutional knowledge from working at a nonprofit, but also the community knowledge. 

Dan: I want to stay on that just for a second because you just mentioned that and I think that brings up a good point too. The difference between the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, and let's say an investment firm, like a Fidelity or Schwab or something like that. 

Laura: Yeah. My donors know they can call Laura Moon and have a 20-minute conversation about why they care about dogs and where they can help their dogs. And I can tell them about my foster dog and it's that personal connection. 

Dan: Right. 

Laura: It's not just an info@fidelity.com email that you're sending something to, it's a person that you can talk to, you can see face to face, you can call, you can email, and we're here. 

Dan: Personal communication, I think is obviously found here at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. 

Laura: Yeah. And I'm more personally invested in the contributions that those philanthropists are making in our community because it's our community. I mean, of course, the nation at large is also our community, but like I know the coffee shop across the street that, you know, the donor also goes to, I run into them. We live in the same space and that's, what's so important about having a relationship with the Community Foundation in a community that you live in. 

Dan: In some cases that initial conversation evolves into something bigger, a vision to impact a cause or population with more than just a donation or even larger than a single donor or fund. We already talked about some other examples of donor gifts that transformed into bigger initiatives. In Episode 5, as you recall, we explored the origins of the Margaret Annis Boys Trust, which has now evolved into our Parks and Public Space Initiative and takes care of all kinds of beautification projects around the city. We also have the Carolyn Watson Rural Oklahoma Community Foundation, which focuses on grants and scholarships to rural communities. We briefly touched on the Carolyn Watson Opportunity Scholarship awarded by the foundation back in Episode 2 and even got a chance to talk to some recipients. So go check out Episode 2 if you've missed it. And just as a side note, that program also has a grant opportunity toward the end of this month. Namely our community grants for arts, culture, and literacy projects in rural communities with a population of less than 6,000. To learn more about that checkout, www.occf.org/ruraloklahoma. Laura, I want to get back to you. So let's talk more about the conversations that have sparked a bigger philanthropic project. So do you have any recent examples that you can talk about? 

Laura: Actually, it's kind of funny you say that. There is a donor couple that I have the opportunity and I'm fortunate enough to be able to work with who had heard about some fire department close to the town they live in that was doing some sort of coat drive for kids and they thought that was really interesting. They wanted to contribute in a way, but they didn't know what the best way to do it was. After I was able to, you know, get a little bit of information from the fire department and figure out what's going on, that program had concluded, but they were able to get me in contact with some of the public schools and the district at large and about seven different schools. I was able to talk to all those schools, gather information about their own coat and backpack programs, and glasses programs to help kids who didn't have that available to them. So once I got that information to the donor, they decided that they wanted to fund every single one of those accounts at every single one of those schools, because it was important to them. And it was that one, you know, maybe it was a news clipping or something they had heard through word of mouth in their community that inspired them to make a larger change for smaller communities around their community. And it's watching those ideas blossom into action, which is the most fun part of my job. 

Dan: Absolutely. And you know, the reason that we're doing this podcast for our listeners is that we want people that drive by our building on a daily basis to know exactly what we do here at the Community Foundation. I want to know what happens after, you know, when a donor passes, tell me a little bit about how OCCF steps in to help carry that torch. 

Laura: Well, sometimes when a donor passes, we have this wealth of knowledge based on those conversations that I was telling you about. The phone calls, the emails, the in-person meetings, and then also the fund documents. So we have this wealth of information about what was important to that donor, why it was important to that donor. And then also sometimes, you know, if someone was more a type A, how they want this carried out, very at A to Z. So we'll take all of that information and then apply it to whichever you know, geographic area or area of interest that was important to them. And we'll use our expertise to determine based on applicants that, you know, apply to a fund to receive grant monies, how best to enact that vision that the donor had. Like anything sometimes it's really straightforward and the donor says, I want to give specifically to this one organization for this one particular program. Or other times it's, I care about the arts generally. And I care about the arts in Oklahoma City make that happen. You know, sometimes it'll be something happening in the arts district or it'll be a festival that is an annual event. 

Dan: Right. 

Laura: But like anything, it's really based on that individual and their passions. 

Dan: To all of you that are listening. If you want to get in touch with Laura, she's doing some great things and helping a lot of people in the community help the community. Laura: I hope so. 

Dan: Thanks so much, Laura, for the important work that you're doing, stewarding people throughout this process. And maybe we can even have a couple of listeners today who are ready to start exploring their charitable ideas with you. Laura: I look forward to it. Dan: Thanks for being here. 

Laura: Thank you. 

 ~ 

Dan: I want to welcome Ken Rees. Hi Ken. 

Ken Rees: Hi Dan. 

Dan: Glad you're here. It's been a long time. I've known Ken for probably 25 plus years. So it's an honor and a privilege to have you on the podcast. 

Ken: Pleasure to be here. 

Dan: Back in 2003, you came to the Community Foundation with a wish to create a model of giving for your family. And you became a donor to your own advised fund, correct? 

Ken: That's correct. 

Dan: Today then I think it's safe to say that you've become much more than a donor, I think. And I think you'd probably agree. But you're an active steward of your own grant program and a philanthropist. So we're going to talk a little bit about that today. Let's kind of start at the beginning, if that's okay with you, Ken. 

Ken: Well, the beginning for our family was probably over 20 years ago when our children were out of the nest and on their own. And we began to think a little bit about the future and we saw that our retirement aims were probably going to be satisfied. And so we began to think what lies beyond that? And we came to some conclusions about the idea that we really wanted to focus what we had beyond our immediate needs on causes that we felt strongly about. So we actually got our children together on a family gathering and explained to them our plans for the future. Remember we were still not quite 60 at the time we had this discussion and we explained that, you know, if they're waiting for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they need to go to plan B, but we wanted them to be involved with us in the giving plans. And so a couple of years later, we had a family retreat and we started talking about what would be some kind of cause or description that we had a consensus among these two generations to try to pursue? And we came up with the idea of efforts that tend to move people away from generational poverty. 

Dan: Which is an incredible, admirable cause. And let's face it, we live in Oklahoma, Oklahoma is doing its best to gain top 10 status in a lot of positive areas. But unfortunately, we are top 10 status and a lot of not so positive areas, one being generational poverty. What made you decide that this was something that you had a passion for and wanted to do everything you can to help folks work their way out of a system like that? 

Ken: Well, certainly we always had the alternative of giving to immediate needs, emergency needs, other social service needs such as that. But when our family got together to discuss what we really felt we wanted to commit to, we felt we wanted to make a longer-term contribution that would alleviate not just immediate needs, but would lead people out of those conditions and circumstances and give them the tools and resources for the family, their children, and hopefully their children's children to succeed. 

Dan: Why did you choose the Community Foundation, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to execute that vision? 

Ken: Well, first of all, we didn't feel quite capable of always picking out the best and most effective recipients for our gifts. So we felt we could get some extra help from the community foundation. Second, we found out the idea of the donor-advised funds, which allows you to place your funds with the foundation as you have them available and then save them up. And in fact, earn some return on them until the time when you have selected the causes that you want to benefit. 

Dan: Absolutely. So, you know, I know that, you know, right before the episode, we were talking a little bit offline, and there, you know, you had mentioned a couple of organizations that are pretty meaningful to you and your family. Tell me a little bit more about the causes that are important to you. 

Ken: We first just sort of explored different things that came to mind. We would ask the community foundation to kind of give us feedback on whether, what their reputation was in the community and make sure that they were qualified to receive a gift. Then we began to think about how we might make more of an impact. And that's when we came up with what we call, breakout challenge, which is a grant competition for a larger grant, rather than just a small or an annual grant. And so the Community Foundation was excited about that. They made the grant competitions happen. And the very first one that we gave was to The Boys and Girls Club, which had an idea of opening up an after school program for the first time in Oklahoma City's Hispanic community, Cesar Chavez Elementary. We were able to fund that for the first couple, three years. And it's been so successful that they've been able to replace that with a lot of community support from many other donors. And that's been much the same program that we've used. We also were able to help Remerge. Those are some of the programs not to mention the City Cares Quiz Kids, which of course I was active in and we've given them some help over the years. Other programs such as Positive Tomorrows, which is a wonderful school for homeless kids in our community. 

Dan: Absolutely. Well, I'm looking at a picture here. I'm staring at a picture of you standing in the background of a young mom, pushing her a little girl on a swing set. So, you know, you tend to be more than just a donor that stands out here and just writes a check every now and then, you tend to get involved. Why is it important to be more than just a donor or be directly involved? 

Ken: Well, first of all, if you don't have passion to combine with the analysis of what they do, you know, somehow philanthropy, it just doesn't get into your bones and your system. The other thing is that we hope after we're gone that our children will continue to grant the remaining funds that we have, and that maybe what we do is an example to them, and hopefully they will catch the fever. And I think some of them already have. 

Dan: That's unbelievable and a great, great, great testament to you and your wife, obviously raising your children in the right way. What would you tell people who want to become charitable, but might consider a traditional estate or trust planning firm like Schwab or Fidelity versus coming on to the Community Foundation let's say? 

Ken: Well, certainly Schwab and Fidelity can establish a donor-advised fund for you. That's not the important part though of being effective as a donor. It has to do with deploying those funds in a way that makes an impact. And the Community Foundation knows Oklahoma City and the programs that are effective. And is in a position to ask the right questions and to lead you to the right people to give to. I don't think that Schwab and other financial services organizations are in a position to do that. 

Dan: How has it been working with the donor services team at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation? 

Ken: I couldn't be happier with the wonderful support I've had. The people are all qualified, they're networked into the community so that they can provide their personal testimony for how these organizations work and how effective they are. And they also have been helpful in putting together tools for our family to be able to grade the grant applications. They have given us the tools and then we have actually gone through the evaluations, but we felt more confident having their help in the process. 

Dan: Ken, we want to thank you so much for telling your story today. Very, very inspiring, obviously. And I appreciate you taking the time and everything that you've done to help the community. 

Ken: Thank you, Dan, 

Dan: If you're thinking now, man, I got to get involved and start the year by setting up a fund that could benefit the community in 2021 and for years to come, get in touch with us and we'll help you carve out that vision. As always this is Dan Martel and I can't wait to explore more charitable giving strategies with you the next time. 

Creating Impact Through Giving is brought to you by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, a nonprofit that works with donors to create charitable funds that benefit our community both now and in the future. If you want to be notified about future episodes, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter at occf.org/subscribe. For all episodes and more information, visit occf.org/impact.Thanks for listening today and I’d like to leave you with this: Everybody wants to create some kind of impact in your community – What would you like to do? Contact the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, and let us help you turn your legacy into a reality today. See you next time.