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Capital Cause – Causing a Bright Future of Philanthropy

Resource Center - Foundation

There is a surplus of articles and seminars being offered on how to engage the next generation of philanthropists—how to work with them and mold them for the future of philanthropy. However, many of them don’t come straight from the horse’s mouth, and who better to learn from than an actual young philanthropist?

With ten years of experience in fundraising already, you wouldn’t guess that Kezia Williams is a Millennial. But not only does she have a decade of experience under her belt, she has also founded a fiscally-sponsored 501(c)(3) nonprofit that trains a new generation of young philanthropists to collectively donate both their money and time to strengthen local communities.

Based in Washington, D.C., Capital Cause looks to re-define what it means to give back by embracing the revolutionary concept that philanthropists do not have to be wealthy or well-established in order to create a large impact.

To appease the hankering for “impact” from many donors, Williams strives to show that the donor’s funds are being used to create systematic change, and to bear witness to the outcome of charitable investments being used to transform underserved communities for the better. 

Donors Do Not Always Equal Rich

One way Capital Cause Young Philanthropists are revolutionizing the way that young people view giving back is by rejecting the notion that you have to be wealthy, well-established or well-known in order to call yourself a philanthropist. Their members subscribe to this theory, and invest in Capital Cause along with their peers (age 21-35) because they believe you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to change a life today.  

Case in point—in 2011 Capital Cause involved their members in volunteering at one-day service projects—a model that was convenient for charitable young people who were focused on building their career and starting a family. They created the Young Philanthropists Giving Circles Projects (GCPs), which are short-term, high-impact service projects that involve young philanthropists in crowd-funding grants of time and money to nonprofits they choose. Young donors participating in GCPs are: 

  • Trained on how to effectively fundraise, manage projects and apply their skills to bring about change
  • Involved in applying their skills by choosing a nonprofit they want to support through GCPs 
  • Paired with four-six other young donors interested in the same project
  • Challenged to fund the grant by (1) crowd-sourcing their skills to complete a pro-bono project or (2) crowd-funding a grant of 2,000 or less by activating their networks to give in small amounts.

In nine months, 50 young donors participating in GCPs were successful at funding $10,000 in financial grants, and contributed 5,000 skills-based hours to benefit 2,062 families across the DC Metropolitan area. The Giving Circles Projects have not only continued to prove their theory that young people (especially Millennials) are passionate about giving, but that small gifts can really come together to fundamentally bring about community change!

The Future Philosophy of The “Ask”

Capital Cause has their own philosophy for a successful “ask”—train fundraisers to prioritize and utilize the personal ask and hold them accountable for their fundraising goals. Williams breaks it down for you:

“Each year Capital Cause hosts a Young Philanthropists Industry Brunch which convenes 200 young donors and connects them to 20 industry leaders for the purpose of building their careers and involving them in funding grants to their nonprofit of choice. To ensure we sell out every event, we recruit a host committee to assist with fundraising—here’s how it works:

  • Our hosts learn how to build fundraising lists and how to create a fundraising plan that is specific to their talents
  • They learn how to make a personal “ask” to their networks by practicing their “ask” with one another and also with a potential donor while the facilitator is present
  • The Capital Cause leadership team provides real-time feedback during these training sessions, which assists each host committee member with crafting a stronger sell
  • We equip each host with the tools and resources necessary to meet their goal (i.e. pre-drafted emails, pre-drafted tweets, event incentive information, an event one-pager, nonprofits that will benefit from their contribution, event flier, etc.)
  • We track their progress weekly and publicly recognize our top ticket-sellers. 

As a result of this method, both fundraisers have sold out every year.”

All Success Comes With Challenges 

Through their success, Williams and Capital Cause face challenges as well.

“Our biggest challenge has been convincing large foundations that young people—many of whom are entry-level professionals making less than $50,000 a year—are “philanthropists” who have the capacity to create systemic change,” says Williams. However, she finds that new research—like The Millennial Impact Report—helps to validate the theory that young people want to give more, do more and volunteer more. Additionally, featuring real impact stories and providing hard evidence helps to further make a case.

Another challenge is the realization that although social media is vastly taking over the nonprofit world, it’s not the end-all to fundraising.

“Most of our young philanthropist members manage multiple social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest,” admits Williams. “However, despite their access to and usage of these social mediums, I am still surprised to find that our most successful fundraising campaigns occur because our young philanthropists’ use traditional methods such as direct mail, personal phone calls, and—yes—personal emails.”

Williams finds that the personal ask—absent social media—still appears to yield the greatest results. For example, one Giving Circles team created a fundraising strategy that involved emailing 25 of their “closest” friends and following-up that message with a phone call. Their Giving Circle not only reached but exceeded their fundraising goal 17 days ahead of their deadline. In comparison, another team mapped out a comprehensive social media plan that involved tweeting regularly, creating and inviting their Facebook friends to join a fan page, and also adding pictures from their campaign to their Instagram. This team struggled to meet their fundraising goal until they decided to personally reach out to their networks.

The 2012 Millennial Impact Report states that 77 percent of young people own and use a smartphone and 74 percent of them enjoy sharing nonprofit events on Facebook, and it appears that social media does a great job at building awareness about a cause. However, in Williams’ opinion, there is still value to be found in stepping out of the social media space to personally connect with potential donors.

From One Fundraiser to Another

Millennial or not, Williams seems to have caught on to the intricacies of working with donors today. Her motto? Know your customer and be able to quantify your impact.

During the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, Capital Cause hosted a service event that involved 500 young donors in serving six of DC’s Ward 8 schools. They began planning this event with an incredible amount of energy, a zero dollar budget and a plan. Part of this plan involved wanting to directly address the problem of illiteracy in DC’s Ward 8—where 42 percent of the residents live in poverty and 70 percent of the children struggle with reading and have little access to books. Their ask was for donors to give $10 to enable the purchase of three books for three children attending one of these schools, and to volunteer five hours to distribute the books on National Service Day.

As they begin making their personal appeals to friends, people could not believe that there were schools that had illiteracy rates as high as 70 percent—they were motivated to know that they could change the situation by donating as few as $10 to help three children. In less than five weeks the campaign began to grow through word-of-mouth: nine organizations partnered to help us serve and spread the word to their memberships; they received sponsorships from Reading is Fundamental, Hooray for Books, Atticus Books and Politics & Prose; Chick-Fil-A offered to supply free breakfast; and DC Public Schools supported the cause by involving the Chancellor and her special guest—actor and entertainer, John Legend—in volunteering for our National Service Day Project. The campaign was successfully funded because they knew their customer (1,000 children) and they could quantify their impact ($10 buys three books for three children).

As a result, they served six schools (instead of their goal of three) and 2,000 children (instead of their goal of just 1,000).

Young philanthropists or not, all fundraisers can learn from their fresh passion for philanthropy and their transparent outlook.

For more information on how you can get involved with Capital Cause and make an impact on the future of philanthropy, please visit:

4300 Wilson Blvd, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22203 • 703-684-0410 | 800-666-3863 | Fax: 703-684-0540
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