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When dollars are tight, consumers focus on what gets them more bang for the buck. It’s no different with charitable givers. Inspired by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations and corporations, donors and volunteers are beginning to use high-impact philanthropy models to compound the efficacy of their efforts.

One subgroup of charitable givers and volunteers has considerable long-term impact, and they may not even be aware of it. The subgroup? Parents. Read more  on my guest blog post at Leadership and Community.

– LuAnne Speeter


Imagine investing in community improvement – while your money stays put in your bank account! That’s what you’re doing when you stash your cash in a community development financial institution (CDFI).

A CDFI is a financial institution whose primary mission is to provide credit, capital and financial services to individuals and businesses in underserved communities. Nationwide, there are more than 1,000 CDFIs that operate as banks, credit unions, loan funds or venture capital companies. You can find them in every state, serving both rural and urban communities.

In 2007 alone, CDFIs have*

  • Leveraged $621 million with private investments.
  • Opened more than 800 accounts for the previously unbanked.
  • Financed the construction or rehabilitation of more than 4,000 affordable housing units.
  • Financed businesses that created or maintained nearly 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

While CDFIs have been around for many years, they’re needed now more than ever to enable growth in communities that would otherwise not have access to financial services. Some of the many success stories CDFIs have brought their communities include:

If you’re considering a CDFI for a personal or business account, you can search by state or “impact sector,” such as small business or housing, at It’s a good idea to check’s Safe & Sound ratings to ensure the CDFI you choose merits at least three stars.


– LuAnne Speeter

When it comes to charitable giving, most of us assume that corporations and foundations carry the load. However, according to the Giving Institute/Giving USA Foundation, 75% of the $307 billion contributed in 2008 came from individuals and 7% from bequests. Corporations and foundations provided 5% and 13% of charitable contributions, respectively.

Individuals tend to be even more generous when they take part in an increasingly popular phenomenon known as “giving circles.”

A giving circle is a social group in which individual participants pool their donations and decide together where the money should be distributed. A study released in May 2009, “The Impact of Giving Together,” shows that those within a giving circle tend to contribute more than if they were to give on their own. Giving circles exert significant influence in other ways, as well. According to the study:

  • Giving circle participants are more strategic about cause selections. Members put more effort into researching organizations and give toward a specified vision for change.
  • They have a more long-term perspective and are more likely to make multi-year gifts.
  • Members give to a broader array of causes, especially those that support women, ethnic and minority groups, the arts and culture, neighborhood development, advocacy and international aid.
  • Giving circle members also express a stronger sense of civic responsibility, channeling their energies into community involvement and changing government policies.
  • Participants gain a greater understanding of philanthropy and the issues that nonprofits face in serving their constituencies.
  • They believe they have better leverage in affecting change in the community, that giving can have a positive impact on the health of the community, and government should do something to reduce income differences.

If you’re interested in starting your own giving circle, start by researching through the Minnesota Council on Foundations or your own regional resource. Make it your primary goal to help foster a greater level of commitment from members, thereby increasing your ability to influence positive results. Also, think about the size of the group; larger groups tend to focus more on the strategic giving aspects, whereas smaller circles value civic engagement and volunteerism.

– LuAnne Speeter

Deciding which cause to support is not a casual matter to most of us. Imagine how challenging it is if you have millions to donate!

Celebrities are like most other contributors, however, in that they often choose charities that reflect their personal interests and passions.

The Giving Back Fund recently released its third annual list of top donating celebrities. See if you can match up the celebrities who gave the most in 2008 with their causes based on what you know about their personalities, values and life stories.

 Pencils up …


Paul Newman (until his death in Sept. 2008) ($21 million)   A. Community development; The Paris Review literary magazine
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt ($13.4 million)   B. A fund to build earthquake-resistant schools in China
Mel Gibson ($6.5 million)   C. Community improvement projects
Richard Childress ($5 million)   D. Health initiatives, education, emergency campaigns, and environmental protection
Oscar de la Hoya ($3.5 million)   E. Better U Foundation that distributed grants to Generation Rescue and Michael Fisher Fund
Oprah Winfrey ($2.5 million)   F. Holy Family Church in Agoura Hills, Calif.
Sam Waterston ($2.1 million)   G. The [Celebrity Name] College Prep Academy in Las Vegas, Nev.
Yao Ming ($2 million)   H. Community development; The Paris Review literary magazine
Patricia Cornwell (author) ($2 million)   I. New York Restoration Project; National Resource Defense Council
David Geffen ($1.7 million)   J. After-school programs across the country and scholarships for students in Whitesboro, N.J.
Barbra Streisand  ($1.7 million)   K. Funding for Athletic Hall of Fame at University of Memphis
Marcia Carsey ($1.6 million)   L. [Celebrity Name] Foundation to support AIDS services, medical research, and arts organizations
Leonardo DiCaprio ($1.5 million)   M. Various health research programs, veterans’ rights groups and children’s rights organizations
Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith ($1.5 million)   N. A hospital and a charter school in Los Angeles
LeRoy Neiman ($1.5 million)   O. Refugees International; the American Institute for Stuttering
Dean Koontz ($1.4 million)   P. The [Celebrity Name] Foundation, supporting the arts and education about the arts
Mark Bulger ($1.3 million)   Q. Various animal charities; pet spaying and neutering programs across the country
Bob Barker ($1.2 million)   R. Amnesty International
Nicolas Cage ($1.1 million)   S. Riley Hospital for Children; Northeast Medical Center; Hendrick Marrow Foundation
Drew Barrymore ($1 million)   T. Canine Companions for Independence
Jenny Jones ($1 million)   U. The Arts Horizons [Celebrity Name] Art Center in Harlem, N.Y.
Jimmy Dean ($1 million)   V. The [Celebrity Name] Cardiovascular Research and Education Program in Los Angeles
Penny Hardaway  ($1 million)   W. The U.N.’s World Food Program
Roger and Chaz Ebert ($1 million)   X. Wayland Baptist University, for campus improvements and endowments
Isabel Allende ($905,000)   Y. The [Celebrity Name] Program for Film Studies Fund at the University of Illinois
Larry David ($720,000)   Z. A pediatric trauma center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Andre Agassi ($540,000)   AA. Health clinic in Ethiopia; New Orleans redevelopment; the Armed Services YMCA
Jeff Gordon ($526,000)   BB. UC Regents Santa Barbara; Free Press; Music Academy of the West
Leonard and Susan Nimoy ($510,000)   CC. Harvard University and City University of New York
Cher ($500,000)   DD. Global Women’s Fund; Marin Education Fund
Jim Carrey ($500,000)   EE. The BackStoppers Inc., a police officers and firefighters fund of St. Louis, Mo.
*Causes listed are representative and may not encompass the celebrity’s total philanthropic efforts.

Answers: Paul Newman (D), Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (AA), Mel Gibson (F), Richard Childress (Z), Oscar de la Hoya (N), Oprah Winfrey (J), Sam Waterston (O), Yao Ming (B), Patricia Cornwell (CC), David Geffen (L), Barbra Streisand (V), Marcia Carsey (BB), Leonardo DiCaprio (A), Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith (H), LeRoy Neiman (U), Dean Koontz (T), Mark Bulger (EE), Bob Barker (Q), Nicolas Cage (R), Drew Barrymore (W), Jenny Jones (C), Jimmy Dean (X), Penny Hardaway (K), Roger and Chaz Ebert (Y), Isabel Allende (DD), Larry David (I), Andre Agassi (G), Jeff Gordon (S), Leonard and Susan Nimoy (P), Cher (M), Jim Carrey (E).

See related post: Pick a social mission that’s true to your core business

– LuAnne Speeter

Maybe it’s shyness, humility or simply Minnesota Nice. But many small business owners around the state are keeping the good they do for charity to themselves. Whether they’ve contributed a check, a percentage of annual sales or employee volunteer hours, some companies never get the word out to the public.

That’s a shame.

By being quiet, you could be depriving your cause. Your donation is only a portion of the potential benefits your chosen charity will derive from your partnership. If you really want to maximize your effectiveness, take on the role as ambassador. That means you could:

  • Show photos of your volunteers in action on your Web site, on your company’s Facebook page or in your newsletter.
  • Include the cause’s logo on your home page and add your commitment, such as “2% of every dollar you spend with us is donated to help [cause name] achieve its goals.”
  • Display your cause’s logo with photos at point-of-sale locations.
  • Talk about your cause – world of mouth is the most powerful influencer.
  • Submit press releases about your cause partnership to local newspapers. Increase the odds of it being picked up by including a human interest story, too.

Minnesota businesses are generous. According to a 2002 survey of 595 companies conducted through Building Business Investment in Community,* the vast majority of businesses make cash contributions to their favorite charities:

Business size by # of employees

% of businesses making cash contributions









In addition, many companies donate products, sponsor scholarships and events, contribute employee hours to school and community projects, and serve on nonprofit or agency boards. Add more impact to your generosity and dedication. Tell the community about your partnership, give information about the cause and provide others with a way to contribute, too.

*A project of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and 12 Minnesota business and philanthropic organizations.

– LuAnne Speeter

If your company’s social responsibility program includes volunteerism, it can have tremendous impact not only on the community, but also on your company and employees.

How the community benefits

  • Increased access to resources
  • Improved health and welfare
  • Enhanced economic development
  • Community needs are addressed

How your company benefits

  • Enhanced reputation
  • Increased product/service awareness
  • Raised productivity
  • Improved staff satisfaction and retention

How your employees benefit

  • Increased community awareness/involvement
  • Heightened employee satisfaction
  • Acceleration of professional development
  • Opportunities for leadership
  • Improved attitude and outlook 
Source: Corporate Volunteerism Council – Twin Cities

But what motivates employees to offer their time and skills to a charitable cause? The answer may surprise you.

In past years, personal recognition was the primary motivation for corporate volunteering, according to LBG Associates, the firm that launched the study involving more than 8,000 employees in 36 companies. However, the latest study, conducted from late 2008 to early 2009, showed the following:

When it comes to recognition, employees rank “a donation made to my charity when I volunteer” highest among all other forms of recognition.

When asked to rank the reasons they volunteer, employees listed the following on a 1-5 scale, with 5 as “very important”:

  • The cause is important to me personally (4.35)
  • Community organizations are experiencing financial hardship (3.61)
  • My volunteering results in a donation for the organization from my company (3.53)
  • The cause is important to my company (3.35)
  • The charity came to the company to talk about what they do for the community (3.08)

When you’re selecting a charitable organization and you want maximum participation from your employees:

  1. Start by looking at several options that are relevant to the majority of your employees’ interests and skill sets.
  2. Choose venues that are local and easily accessible.
  3. Ask employees to vote among the charities and go with the most popular choice(s).

– LuAnne Speeter

As the year heads into the fourth quarter, your business is likely receiving an onslaught of requests for charitable donations. But if you own a start-up business or your cash flow is suffering due to the ongoing recession, it may not be possible to write out big checks this year. Before you change the nameplate on your door to Ebenezer, consider these alternative ways of contributing to those in need.

In-kind product donations. Establish a partnership with a nonprofit whose needs fit the scope of your business. For example, a restaurant could donate nonperishables to neighborhood food shelves. Or, if you own a retail store, provide clothing or household items to shelters for the homeless or domestic violence victims.  Build companywide support by inviting employees to join you in delivering the products. Be sure to develop a strategy just as you would with cash donations, determining in advance how much you want to donate for the season or year. Contact your tax advisor so you’ll know what portion of the donation can be written off.

Employee volunteer programs. Many businesses are now incorporating more flexibility into the work week to encourage volunteerism. Some companies allow a number of hours annually of paid release per employee for donating time and skills to preapproved organizations. Nonprofits often seek out services donated by computer technicians, attorneys, marketers and graphic designers, in particular. If you embark on such a program, business owners and C-level executives should lead the way by volunteering time as well, either by rolling up your sleeves with a project or event, or by serving on the board of a nonprofit organization.

Purchasing cards and gifts from non-profits. Consider organizations such as the Courage Center when purchasing your holiday greeting cards. By doing so, you’ll help support programs for adults and children with disabilities. Need gifts for clients or coworkers? Shop at Twice the Gift, a store operated by Partnership Resources, Inc., opening Oct. 15 in the IDS Crystal Court in Minneapolis. The store offers unique gifts and Share Cards, with proceeds benefiting 60 area nonprofits.

No matter which avenue you take in your charitable donation program, generate greater exposure for your causes by encouraging stakeholders – employees, customers, vendors, etc. – to offer their support, as well. Check with organizations about using their logos on your Web site and include a link or “Donate Now” button so customers can participate in the charitable partnership.

– LuAnne Speeter

If you own or work for a small business, you play a pivotal role in your community – and your community would suffer without you.

Not only does your small business provide valuable products and services to your surrounding neighborhoods, but in most cases you also:

  • Live in the community and become involved in local interests.
  • Hire employees who reside in the community.
  • Plow much of your profits back into other businesses in the community.
  • Pay local taxes, which stay in the community.

But when it comes to charitable donations and social responsibility, are you more likely to stock the neighborhood food shelf or contribute to large nonlocal foundations and nonprofits? And are you too strapped for cash – and time – to even do the research and donate to worthy causes?

Please take this quick 10-question anonymous survey about your small business and social responsibility. I’ll share the combine results in a future post so you’ll know how your company stacks up against the rest.

Please take the survey now. Thank you!

– LuAnne Speeter

TCCVM provides voice mail services for homeless and low-income families.

TCCVM provides voice mail services for homeless and low-income families.

As the recession drags on, charitable outreach is changing to reflect today’s dire economic situation locally and nationally.

A recent report from the National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC) shows that 72% of Americans are cutting back on community volunteerism and charitable giving – often because they are focusing on needs in the home. Baby boomers in particular are caught between caring for their elderly parents and taking adult children back into their homes. According to the NCOC’s “America’s Civic Health Index 2009: Civic Health in Hard Times,” there is an increase in the portion of young people living with their parents. In 2009, 52.5% of 18- to 24-year-olds reported living with their parents, up from 50% in 2007.  So it’s not that people aren’t as charitable, but rather the focus has turned toward immediate family needs.

U.S. businesses can play a significant role in helping overcome the shortfall by offering charitable opportunities at work. In fact, the NCOC report showed that employed baby boomers were by far more likely to volunteer (45%) than those who were not working due to retirement, disability or layoffs (23%). By partnering with a charitable organization, a business can help provide a major boost through donations, matching gifts, volunteering or cause marketing.

A charity that provides a particularly critical service during this economy is the Twin Cities Community Voice Mail.* TCCVM offers free voice mail to homeless and low-income people who don’t own their own phones. Through TCCVM, recipients can maintain communications for such vital needs as employment, housing, health care, safety from domestic abuse and child care, enabling greater self-sufficiency. In fact, you and/or your company can join the TCCVM Walk in Minnehaha Park on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Your company’s support of TCCVM, Families Moving Forward or other organizations empowering self-sufficiency delivers important help during times of transition for individuals and families – more crucial than ever in this economic environment.

*TCCVM is part of a national organization, Community Voice Mail.

– LuAnne Speeter

Related posts:

child handThe deaths of Sen. Ted Kennedy and his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver within the past two weeks ignited a media blitz about the family, blessed with wealth, talent and power, yet cursed by tragedy. The retelling of the Kennedy family story – now mythic in proportion – seems almost necessary so our children and our children’s children can understand more about American history. Those front-page photos, burned into our memories, punctuate key moments along a timeline that began during the Cold War.

But for me the real story is how driven the Kennnedys were in the fight for social justice, and that committing your life to public service doesn’t come easily, even if you have money. (But it helps.)

Eunice Shriver, inspired by her deep devotion to her sister Rosemary, worked tirelessly to advance the rights of the mentally disabled.  As executive vice president of the foundation named for her oldest brother Joe, Eunice had the resources – and the assistance of her brother, JFK – to create both the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development and the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation. In 1968, Eunice founded the Special Olympics.

Renowned for his commitment to health care reform – “the cause of my life,” as he put it – Ted Kennedy authored more than 2,500 bills, hundreds of which have become public law. His mark can be seen on COBRA, HIPAA, the Family Opportunity Act, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, Meals on Wheels, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. He worked for gender equity, voters’ rights, fair housing, education, immigration law, workers’ safety, civil rights, nuclear arms reduction, and much more.

Whew! So how do we little guys measure up to that? That’s the challenge – we’re so consumed by our day-to-day schedules, where do we get the time, the energy and the inspiration to make the world a better place?

Obviously there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But the lives – and deaths – of dedicated public servants (whether their politics match up with our own is not the point) inspires each of us to do a little soul-searching.

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Sen. Ted Kennedy

– LuAnne Speeter


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