Teaching Philanthropy: The Importance of Sharing Leadership

By: Sarah Dynia, Allow Good Northwestern Chapter Member & Founder/President of Stuffed Love

In my freshman year at Northwestern University, I took a class called Learning Philanthropy. This class focused on the importance of philanthropic giving in a constructive way, ensuring that donations went as far as they could to make an impact on an issue you cared about. As a passionate supporter of youth engagement and leadership development, I was excited when one of my friends introduced me to Allow Good. The potential to empower local youth to create change in their community and promote service learning through this organization is exciting and gratifying, and I am so honored and proud to be part of this organization.

I want to empower young people to believe in their ability to create change through their unique talent and skills, just as I have been empowered to do. In eighth grade, I founded my own nonprofit project, Stuffed Love. Stuffed Love’s mission is to remind people that they are cared for and loved through hand-sewn stuffed pillows. We distribute thousands of these pillows to various groups, such as children with congenital heart defects, veterans, and the homeless. Being a leader for a nonprofit is an exciting and rewarding job. You get to see your passion and drive come to fruition and help people. As a young adult in nonprofit leadership, I am constantly asked how and why I manage Stuffed Love. Both adults and youth are curious on how I can handle being a young student and taking care of all the tasks related to keeping Stuffed Love going. From these interactions, I have noticed that youth are often assumed to be unable to make an impact. Volunteering, and especially leadership roles within volunteering, are usually reserved for the grown-ups. Many high school students do not engage in service beyond hour requirements needed to graduate or pass a class. Additionally, service leadership is a role typically constrained within a school-specific setting, and can be treated as a resume bullet point instead of a place to feel empowered and engaged. This highlights a critical gap in service knowledge in youth: their important role in service and philanthropic actions in their communities.

Modeling and facilitating service and leadership are my favorite parts of my role with Stuffed Love and Allow Good’s work. I have been able to present to students and work with them one-on-one to grow their own service projects. My message to these students is always focused on the tremendous impact that they can have on their communities. I want these students to know that their age does not prevent them from changing the world. My work with Allow Good also helps me to share this message through philanthropy. As an Allow Good facilitator, I want to break down the stereotype that philanthropy can only be done by rich old men. By teaching young adults how to be effective philanthropists, I believe we are setting these students up for a life of philanthropy and service where they know they can be agents of change.

Service and philanthropy are not age-exclusive. Through my work with Allow Good and Stuffed Love, I am able to influence the way that young people think about philanthropy. We need to motivate the youth of today to be activists for change. By teaching them the skills needed to be effective philanthropists, we are preparing students to take the things they see as needing to improve and fix them. I am so excited to get into a classroom and share my lessons on philanthropy with my students and teach them that they have the ability to change the world.

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Empower, Don't Revictimize

By: Delaney Buenzli, Program Coordinator

How many times have you seen a commercial for a nonprofit that made you feel bad for the helpless people or animals shown while a sad song plays in the background? Probably one too many times.

In September, I attended Forefront’s Bridging the Divide conference designed to bring nonprofits of all kinds (grantors and grantees) together to collaborate, share, and grow as a community. One of the most powerful sessions was led by BME Managing Director, Benjamin Evans. The session focused on asset mapping, which is also part of Allow Good’s School-Based program, and the importance of crafting an empowering organization narrative.

For mission-driven organizations, it is paramount to have a clear vision statement and narrative to guide your work and your outreach. Every story needs a hero, but your organization is not that. Instead, make your organization about highlighting the success of individuals and showcasing the real heros, the people who are taking control of their lives by utilizing your organization’s program and services!

Although many nonprofits offer free services to those in need, the services we offer are not free to provide. Everything comes at a cost; as a sector, it is important that we ensure that people who utilize our services are retaining their dignity in the process. We should always define our mission and vision in terms of assets and positive outcomes. A good litmus test is to read your mission statement or program description and ask yourself, “How would I feel to be defined by this statement? How would I feel if the person in our promotional materials was my brother/sister/neighbor/friend?”

Language that defines people by their circumstance often dehumanizes them; always recognize the humanity of your participants first and foremost. An organization does not serve “the homeless”, they serve people who do not have permanent housing. We should strive to make sure that the people who use our programs or services are empowered; instead of using the word “victim”, use a term like “survivor” because it gives people power to move forward and control their personal narratives.

Allow Good’s mission is to empower all youth through the tools of philanthropy to take meaningful action in their world. We refer to youth as changemakers, conferring a sense of responsibility and validating the ability of young people to make a difference in their community today. Our School-Based program is student led and directed. Over the 12 week course, young changemakers are given the tools to evaluate, research, and interact with community organizations working on local social issues eventually culminating in a $1,000 grant awarded by each classroom. The only restriction that we put on the grant is that it must go to a 501(c)3 recognized organization. The high school students are given full responsibility for the process including issue focus, research, evaluation, and the final decision. Throughout the program we emphasize a concept called the “philanthropic portfolio” of skills which consists of 4 Ts: Time, Talent, Treasure, and Ties. Through this concept we encourage students to be philanthropists by sharing their unique Ts with the community, emphasizing that not all philanthropists have to be millionaires.  As a part of our grant application, we ask that organizations share opportunities for youth involvement. This gives students a sense of what they can do in their community and engage with an organization that matters to them, even if they are not chosen as the final grant recipient. The last element of our program is a grant ceremony, which serves as a platform for students to explain their process and celebrate the work of the grantee. The ceremonies are open to the community and allow other students to learn about the program.

You can make sure your organization is empowering people instead of victimizing them by:

  1. Evaluate Mission and Marketing. Make sure that your mission and marketing focus on the assets of your target audience; ask your marketing team: “Are we making the participant the hero of the story? Are we portraying people with dignity?”

  2. Give Responsibility. Give your participants a platform to contribute to their learning and success. Be creative! This could be a blog for student voices, an internal mentorship or accountability partner program, or building more opportunities to exercise choice into programs.

  3. Re-Evaluate. Take the time to look over your promotional materials once a quarter to ensure that your materials follow your mission and vision.

Charlotte's reflections on North Shore Country Day School Fall Interim

By: Charlotte, Student at North Shore Country Day School

Every year our school holds a week of experiential learning where students discover outside of the classroom. I choose to do the Social Entrepreneurship program with Allow Good, where a few of us went into downtown Chicago and spoke with different businesses about how they were helping with a social venture within communities around them or throughout society as a whole. We also learned about the for-profit, nonprofit, and for-profit with social venture spectrum to see where different companies were coming from in their business plan.

By the end of the week, we had heard from about eleven businesses with completely different business plans and social ventures. Out of these my favorites were UNICEF USA, A Better Chicago, and Regroup Therapy.

UNICEF USA is a non-profit organization that works to protect all children (individuals under the age of 18). This presentation allowed me to learn more about the widely known organization, such as different processes they have to go through in order to enter a country to help and how they help the children by working not only on the ground, but also with the governments of countries to help the problem from multiple angles. It was also interesting to see behind-the-scenes aspects of the organization by learning about their funding and about how simple it is for ordinary citizens to help children in need, even if it with the smallest contribution. This presentation made us think about not only helping the communities around us, but also about becoming global citizens as we continued to grow.

A Better Chicago is also a non-profit organization, although it is much smaller than UNICEF USA. A Better Chicago stood out to me because it is a business concept I had never heard of. The company helps improve the education system in the Chicago area by sponsoring different organizations that are helping the community. Their method of doing this is that individuals donate to A Better Chicago and they place the money in areas that will be the most beneficial to the community. They understand that when individuals are donating money they are obviously trying to help a cause, however, these donations are often made without much research on organizations being donated to and the money is not always guaranteed to make as much of a difference as one expected. This is where A Better Chicago comes in as they have already done the research for you! This ensures that everyone is benefitting to the greatest extent with these donations. I also found this business very interesting because of their size; they are so small, yet they are able to make a significant difference.

Regroup Therapy is a company that is helping with psychologists and psychiatrists shortages in areas. The company works with hospitals and/or doctor’s offices to provide sessions for patients through video chat. In doing this, patients are able to speak to someone without having to travel far, which is not an option for many individuals. This service is also available for all ages, which was quite interesting to learn about, as the resource is available for all patients struggling with mental health. It was really fascinating to learn about the company what the company does on a regular basis to ensure this resource is continually available for patients.

At the end of the week, we returned to the classroom where we reflected on the different business plans and companies we had spoken with. We also had the opportunity to create our businesses using the information and business plans we had learned about for the past four days. Creating presentations we answered a variety of questions about how our company would work and also about social entrepreneurship in general. This allowed the group and myself to pay more attention to businesses we encounter on a daily basis and also find a cause we are passionate about and see how we could also begin to help.


Why Annual Reports Matter

By: Delaney Buenzli, Program Coordinator at Allow Good

Let’s face the facts: Giving is changing. According to The Balance, Millennials have more expectations than generations before. They are expecting that their investment in a nonprofit organization will be reflected in program metrics, higher instances of positive outcomes, and more people served. Millennials are also willing to volunteer more than just their money to an organization. Many millennials will lend their professional skills and personal networks to organizations working on social issues that appeal to them. If your organization wants to tap into this young, motivated, generous generation, then you have got to demonstrate impact, direction, and flexibility -- this all starts with a stellar annual report.

A well-organized, visually appealing, accessible and informative Annual Report is a simple thing that can set an organization apart. Whatever the size and operating budget of your nonprofit organization, it is becoming increasingly important for information about impact and financial reporting to be easily accessible to board members, annual donors, event attendees, and website visitors (read: prospective donors). According to a recent Firespring webinar, 82% of donors visit a website before they give. This makes your website a perfect place to highlight and store all of your organization's annual reports.

At Allow Good, we focus on empowering all youth through the tools of philanthropy to take meaningful action in their world. Our school-based program guides high school classes through a completely student-directed grantmaking process where the high school students are responsible for each step from identifying issue areas through actually granting $1,000 to a community organization. A portion of our curriculum teaches young people to evaluate nonprofits based on their leadership, community reputation, sustainability, quantitative impact, and mission statement to decide where they want to direct their grant. All too often, we encounter organizations that appear to be doing great work but have inaccessible annual reports.

Thankfully, technology has made it increasingly easy to design and produce visually stimulating, informative, and aesthetically pleasing reports and brochures, even with little to no graphic design experience. Many of the free tools also have options to extend features using a paid version once you have learned the basics. One of my favorite tools is Canva, a simple, user-friendly graphic design tool for social media posts, brochures, presentations, and reports. Canva also has free design resources, tutorials, and inspiring examples to get you started. You can even build your brand through setting custom colors and fonts. We also like to use Piktochart, another user-friendly graphic design program great for building infographics and reports. Now that I have used the tool, I recognize infographics built by this tool on Pinterest, company websites, and blogs.

When it comes to sharing your Annual Report, celebrate it! It is the amalgamation of all of your successes for the year. Make sure that you share it with more than just your board and donors; send it in a monthly newsletter, as a social media post, and highlight it on your website navigation. We recently switched over to Squarespace, a website platform that helps you to create a streamlined website that visitors will love. The platform makes adding new pages and navigation menu items a breeze. Whatever platform you use, be sure to add your annual report library to your main navigation. I recommend pulling the content out of your most recent annual report and posting it directly to the web page instead of uploading downloadable PDFs. That way the information is easily accessible and you get to show off the beautiful design that you worked on! 

Thankfully, as giving changes and donors demand more information, more tools are made available to make providing that information quickly and in a visually appealing format. Now that you are prepared to make a magnificent annual report, go out there and attract more donors!

Program Alumna Colette: 5 Years Later

Colette was a member of our very first summer program in 2012. Over the course of the program, she learned how to create impact through fundraising activities, such as the fashion show that she organized to benefit the Liger Learning Center in Cambodia. Allow Good also taught Colette compassion and patience, skills she uses personally and professionally.

After her time with Allow Good, Colette enrolled at Columbia College of Chicago to support her growth as a young fashion designer. In her junior year at Columbia, Colette found a nonprofit organization that has helped her marry her love of fashion design and civic engagement. As an intern for The Creative Palate Series at Dream On Education, she created lesson plans focused on developing design skills among under served junior high school students. The curriculum focuses on goal setting, professional development, and career exploration and guidance. She also arranged for well-known companies such as Akira, Iridium, and Ford Models to present to the students.

The program was so successful that Colette was asked to help expand the program to schools on the west side of Chicago. Colette has enjoyed her time empowering young designers, she feels that she learned as much from them as they learned from her.

Now, Colette is pivoting to focus on her fashion brand, Mixed Sprinkles. Her brand that is just as fun, spunky, and energetic as Colette was during her time at our summer program. The first items of the collection, t-shirts with a design honoring Harriet Tubman, have been featured in her school newspaper! Once Colette gets her brand off the ground she wants to continue to give back through fashion, most likely by organizing benefit fashion shows.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Colette! We can see that you have a bright future ahead of you as you use your love of fashion to empower other young people and continue your journey as a changemaker!


If you would like more information about Colette's brand, Mixed Sprinkles, you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram @mixedsprinkles