A Better Place

A Better Place

Graduates follow their ideals into the expanding world of organizations dedicated to helping others

By Ruani S. Freeman


 

The Power of Giving

Ruth Bender ‰89, philanthropic advisor at the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, is well aware of the stress inherent in working for underfunded nonprofits: she started her career as an events planner for the Breast Cancer Foundation. ,It combined my sports and activism background, but it was draining. When you work in development, you are at the wheel all the time. The end of one proposal is the beginning of another,Š she said.

Like most foundations, Tides awards money to organizations that apply to it for grants. It also manages coalitions of donors who share a particular philanthropic interest. Tides made grants in excess of $86 million last year, funding everything from water purification in Madagascar to reproductive rights in America. Though she‰s now making grants rather than asking for money, she is still under pressure, but now it is the responsibility to help clients clarify their mission, vision, and giving goals,and match those with the most appropriate recipient. ,We have a lot of power and we have to wield it carefully,Š Bender said.

Well-defined values help ease that burden. Tides moved over $300,000 out the door in the wake of 9/11 while others were still figuring priorities. ,We knew what to focus on: reconciliation, alternative media, ensuring that important topics were being talked about.Š

In a climate of intense federal scrutiny of private donations, foundations like hers have benefited. ,People are fearful of being investigated, so we manage their philanthropy,Š said Bender. And those who ask for help in giving their money away know what Tides represents. ,Nobody comes to us and says ,what do you mean you won‰t fund the NRA?‰Š she said, laughing.

Bender sees synergy between the broad foundation of a liberal arts education and Colby‰s growing emphasis on civic engagement. ,Creative volunteerism makes for leaders who can do budgets, build partnerships, write grant applications, plan conferences,Š she said.

She illustrates her point by referring to Colby‰s greening initiative. ,Say you want organic food. You ask and answer the hard questions: ,Can it be local? What do we use to wash our plates? Could the senior class donate a solar panel?‰ When you graduate and want to effect change, you know the steps. You know whom to educate, what your resources are.Š

For Bender, Colby is still familiar territory. ,I recently signed off on a $25,000 check from a private donor [through Tides Foundation to Colby] and got a call from the development office to ask me how I wanted that listed. It wasn‰t my personal donation. Mine are smaller,but consistent!Š
The challenges of working in this fast-paced and rapidly changing environment are balanced with opportunities for energetic, analytical, idealistic people to take on new tasks and weighty responsibilities—fast. And for all of the Colby alumni interviewed for this story, that's a big part of the appeal. Unlike many professions where advancement comes by ascending specific steps on the ladder, for graduates in the nonprofit sector, often the field is wide open. In fact, Colby graduates may be particularly well suited to the nonprofit world as they bring critical thinking skills, global perspective, and a sense of community responsibility to their careers.

At Colby, the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, now in its fourth year, will lead succeeding classes of students to examine their world with greater intensity, alumni said. "What is happening with [Goldfarb] is amazing," said Pope, from Africa. She said she hopes involvement with the center will move more students to explore issues beyond their comfort zones.

Student leadership and a commitment to volunteering lays the foundation for similar contributions with a grander scale, said Alan Ashbaugh '05 at Toronto-based Free The Children. As a leader of Colby's Habitat for Humanity and the Colby South End Coalition, he was taking action as a student on and off the campus. "It informed my perspective on what I could do to change the world," he said.

Alumni credit faculty for guidance and encouragement. For Reed, now bringing legal services to the underserved, it is a fireside chat with Patrice Franko, the Grossman Professor of Economics, that still resonates. "She said, 'No matter what path you follow after Colby, know what you are passionate about and follow your passion.' … I have never forgotten that."

And following one's passions can be its own reward.

"I measure my success in terms of the interactions I have," said Watson, in North Carolina. "I am rich in that regard. … I know that it is considered 'unprofitable' to work for a nonprofit, and yes it's the nonprofit hustle that I do, but it is inspiring, and amazing, and I certainly 'profit' from it—it fits me."

Said Maguire at Food & Water Watch: "This job makes a tremendous difference in the quality of my life. I am happy every single day."
 
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