Beyond the Dollar Sign

by Julia Levy

What is worth more to you $1,000 or two hours of your time?

As a development professional, ultimately, I am responsible for ensuring that my organization achieves its fundraising goal. However, the process for reaching it is not always a linear path, particularly in this economic climate. More so now than ever, we need to think beyond the dollar sign to ask: how can members of our community add value in different capacities?

Last week concluded the second year that I organized Cornell Hillel’s Summer networking series where prominent Jewish alumni, recent graduates and parents offered career guidance to Cornell students and young alumni. There were eleven panels over the course of the summer ranging from public service to communications to entrepreneurship. Take a look at the entire series here.

Organizing this series, I learned a tremendous amount about different career fields, and in turn discovered a lot about my current field of philanthropy/fundraising.

I realized how critical it is to have opportunities for volunteers who are eager to give of their time. Partnering with a member of our Board, I recruited parents and young alumni to serve as hosts. I then searched our donor database, googled interesting companies to find Cornell graduates, and tapped into the network of young alumni that I knew as an undergraduate in order to compile a roster of potential speakers. It was then up to the volunteers to recruit the speakers. While I stepped in to help when needed, the volunteers did a lot and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for them.

The events enabled us to engage many current and new stakeholders. We featured major supporters, offering them a chance to give back beyond financially. We included alumni who had known Hillel when it was a very different organization, and were able to show them how different our organization is like today. And we highlighted young alumni who at the start of their careers are not able to give, but their experiences are critical to help their peers. Most importantly, we asked panelists to talk about giving back in addition to their careers to inspire attendees to commit to volunteering in addition to working. Each speaker added such a unique perspective and I am thankful for their gift of time. I am most proud that these events were open to the entire Cornell community. Attendees included Jewish students who are and are not involved in Hillel as well as other diverse cultural and religious groups.

As I reflect on the series, I hope that other organizations might consider hosting similar programs. What enabled this project to be successful was working at an organization which supports thinking differently to accomplish our goals and having a supervisor who believed in allowing my creativity to be a part of my work. Just as Google allows employees to have 20% of their time for creative projects, so too do nonprofits need to set aside time to think, innovate, and implement new ideas.

At the conclusion of each panel, the hosts ended with the following: “Please feel free to talk to the panelists individually, but also remember to talk to one another because you are each other’s network. In five to ten years, you could be starting a business with someone you met at this event or colleagues at a company.”

The same is true for the measurement of the impact of this series. Most likely, the impact that it will have on our organization may not resonate until a few years down the line. Sure, a few speakers or parents of students who attended made a gift in honor of the events, and I am really appreciative of their contributions. But, what about the recent graduates and students who will hopefully give back to others? What is worth more now: $1,000 or two hours of their time? 

Julia Levy is the Advancement Director for Cornell Hillel. She works in New York City.