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Alana Taube, ’20, is a graduate of Chicago Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program and a Tarrson Fellow at Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. The Tarrson Social Venture Fellowship provides funding and advising to graduating students or recent alumni of the University of Chicago while they raise philanthropic or venture capital for their social enterprise.

In this moment of significant challenge, individual acts of generosity and solidarity serve as reminders that we are all in this together, and that our human spirit is resilient.

As founder of the philanthropic advisory group Where Good Grows, I am fortunate to work alongside some of the mission-driven people who are giving their time and resources this year to promote a future which is healthier, more just, and prosperous. I have witnessed several ways that individual donors are uniquely positioned to make an impact right now. These include advocating for the equitable distribution of relief aid, supporting nonprofits facing increased demand, and shouldering the risk of investing in innovative long-term solutions – to name just a few strategies.

How we give back looks different for everyone. With that in mind, what enables an individual donor to effectively achieve the impact they envision, especially in today’s challenging environment?

To shed light on this question, I recently spoke with several members of the Booth community who have been active in pursuing their charitable missions this year. Building upon their experiences, here are four key principles for impact-focused giving:

Mobilize your core values

What are the deeply held beliefs that guide you? For even the most seasoned volunteer or donor, it is helpful to reflect on this question. Giving that is rooted in our values will be personally fulfilling and, when deployed to meet a real need in the world, can be tremendously effective.

For Nicole DeFalco, ’98, CEO of Upsurge Advisors, a core value is building meaningful relationships. She is a seasoned volunteer and has dedicated her professional expertise to a handful of nonprofits that provide high-touch mentorship and leadership development programming, especially for young adults. This year, DeFalco increased her support to the same organizations, helping them to meet increased demand for services. “I realized that I don’t need to make a big splash in this world. When I pour into others, I just think about the exponential impact they will have.”

For Geoff McQueen, ’13, caring for his neighbors is deeply important. “I just want to make sure that people are taken care of, and that they are able to come through COVID-19 as best they can.” With a busy career as principal at L.E.K. Consulting and two small kids now at home, volunteering has become increasingly difficult. He shifted his focus toward funding local organizations that provide direct services and shopping at small businesses that he knows are important neighborhood employers.

“If your philanthropy drains you, if it feels like one more thing you have to do—then you’re not in the right place. It should be life giving. It should be something you look forward to, even in your busiest season.”

— Nicole DeFalco, '98

Leverage the resources at your disposal

When thinking strategically about how best to achieve your personal mission, consider how you can leverage the various resources at your disposal, often categorized as your time, talents, and treasures. Deploying these resources thoughtfully can transform giving from a periodic to-do item into an aspect of daily life that you look forward to.

Gayle Haller, ’87, and Judy Maley, LAB ’78, MBA ’84, who cofounded Booth Alumni Nonprofit Consultants (BANC), want Booth alumni to know their talents are extremely valuable in helping nonprofits solve pressing operational and strategic issues. Since they founded BANC in 2015, the Chicago-based pro bono consulting group has completed 24 projects for nonprofit organizations, engaging over 100 alumni. Haller said applications for the next round of projects should be going out to alumni email inboxes in early 2021.

Taking a new approach this year, Lendri Purcell, vice president of her family’s foundation, Jonas Philanthropies, used her investment portfolio to buy shares in glass, water filtration systems, and alternative energy companies – building upon the organization’s environmental grant making. The portfolio outperformed substantially. Purcell is now working closely with a sustainability-focused investment advisor and exploring opportunities to deploy program- and mission-related investments; mission-driven financing popular amongst foundations and a growing number of donor-advised funds.

Seek active partnerships with stakeholders

When developing a new initiative, or thinking about which nonprofit best achieves the impact you seek, pay close attention to the representation of stakeholders. The people who experience a particular issue firsthand have a deep understanding of the underlying dynamics and practical nuances that will either disprove a theory of change, or enable sustainable success. Having formed friendships with people I never would have met outside of my nonprofit work, I can attest that this active partnership is genuinely fun and life-enriching as well.

This year, Haller and fellow board members of a music nonprofit were saddened to see their musician colleagues unable to perform due to COVID-19 restrictions. The board initially considered an emergency stipend to support living expenses, but their colleagues declined the offer. Instead, the musicians requested support in creating a show that would allow each player to perform at their own location and continue to inspire audiences. The organization is now putting on a virtual performance, which the board helped to orchestrate and promote via social media.

Purcell says listening to frontline communities is central to the success of Jonas Philanthropies’ environmental initiatives. The trees they plant to address climate change have an increased survival rate when local residents determine the species and timing of planting. Turning her attention towards the devastating California fires, Purcell has encouraged fire agencies to open conversations on controlled burn strategies with the Native American tribes living on impacted land. “They know how to manage the land, yet the tribes had not been listened to before,” Purcell said.

Invest in systemic change

You don’t need significant wealth or political influence to affect the underlying conditions that lead to painful outcomes. Proving this point, Paul Hawkinson leveraged 17 years of Wall Street experience to cofound Transform Capital in 2020, a nonprofit focused on reducing wealth inequality.

Together with partners Mark Chassman, Frederick Tolbert, and Stephen Kawasaki, Hawkinson is making low-interest mortgage and business loans to marginalized groups who lack access to capital. “Our goal is to provide capital that recycles – as well as encouragement, a network, and coaching. We want to promote asset ownership that creates generational advantage,” he said. Chassman, a former media executive, describes their mission as an investment in human flourishing.

“I look at systems just as principles and processes that are developed by man. So when I look at a system problem, I ask how an individual is experiencing our system and where are the inequalities. How can we help that individual to experience something different—and then hope to duplicate that, replicate that, and ultimately create new principles and practices.”

— Mark Chassman

As this challenging year comes to a close, it is reassuring to know that our communities are strong—and so is our collective resolve to keep striving toward a world that is more equitable and sustainable.