Mary Lou Gorno, ’76, couldn’t decide if it was the right time to give back.

She was fresh out of business school, saving up for a Chicago condo, and weighing the pros and cons of donating to her undergraduate alma mater, Saint Mary’s College.

On a recent afternoon, over lunch and in front of a classroom of Chicago Booth students, Gorno said she recalled her father adding his two cents: If not now, then when?MaryLouGorno-resize

“It’s independent of how much you’re making. It’s part of who you are and your belief system,” said Gorno, who along with fellow alumnus James N. Perry, Jr., ’85 participated in a discussion called “Making Your Mark: A Conversation on Philanthropy.”

The second annual event, hosted by Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, offered students tips to develop charitable giving strategies now and for the future.

According to a show of hands, nearly half of those in attendance had donated to a charity in their lifetime. The group of first- and second-year students brought questions to the panel, which was moderated by Christina Hachikian, AB ’02, MBA ’07, executive director of the Rustandy Center and adjunct assistant professor of strategy.

The giving spirit stemmed from strong Catholic upbringings for both Perry, managing director of Madison Dearborn Partners, and Gorno, managing director of Ingenuity International LLC and vice chair of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees.

Growing up in Detroit, Gorno was 6 when her mother asked that her Mother’s Day gift be given to someone else in need. This family tradition expanded to Christmas and has continued every year since.

Gorno’s family valued education and giving; so does she.

“There’s an intimacy to the mission that is required,” she said. “Think about their vision. See if you want to advance it.”

Perry’s first donation went to a homeless shelter in Lincoln Park, where he spent time volunteering as well as giving money. The New Jersey native said it’s important to get behind a nonprofit’s mission instead of merely writing checks.

“There’s a gJames Perryreat temptation to just do that sort of thing and feel like you’ve done your job,” he said.

As for how to maximize impact on issues they care about, Gorno and Perry said students could first volunteer time. Hopefully money and eventually nonprofit board expertise will follow. They couldn’t, however, say how much students should donate to charity each year.

“Start,” Gorno said. “It doesn’t have to be big, but start.”

While neither of them decided to work for a nonprofit full time—Perry said he manages investments, not people—they both found causes to champion.

If you make serving on a nonprofit board a priority, you’ll find time, Gorno said.

Pick a cause, be intimately involved, and know you can make a significant impact, no matter the size of your contribution, Gorno said.

“Don’t worry about making your mark,” Perry added. “Do something that you love. Find something you’re passionate about and get involved.”