Without naming names or citing ages, the people who donated the most and the longest to the region’s nonprofit and charitable organizations—those fabulously wealthy benefactors with their names most often on new building wings, hospital centers and schools—are getting old. Really old. It’s why it’s called old money. Even if they earned it in the ’80s, which many of them did, it’s old. So with many of our senior philanthropists vacating the area and joining boards in Florida country clubs, it’s time for a new generation of benefactors to splurge on gala dinner tables and make the winning bids at silent auctions. We are happy to report there are, in fact, young philanthropists working behind the scenes to keep our nonprofits afloat. They raise our standard of living by investing time and treasure in organizations that provide the infrastructure that government budgets cannot; they support the people who help those who are forgotten or in need; they keep visual artists and musicians in their studios creating new works and adding value to our lives. Here are five dynamic younger patrons who illustrate the contemporary idea that philanthropy isn’t always about money—more often, effort is more valuable.
Co-director of the mentorship program of the Gilman Black Alumni Leadership Institute
Most Saturdays from October to April find Kourtney Whitehead, 36, and her husband, Terrance, driving 80 miles from their Bristow home to Baltimore, where Whitehead is the co-director of the mentorship program of the Gilman Black Alumni Leadership Institute. The nonprofit, she says, “mentors 35 African-American public and private school students on things not taught in class. College planning, networking—things you don’t pick up in school.”
For Whitehead, vice president for product and client solutions at the Herndon consulting firm accelHRate and mother of two tween sons, the mission is personal—she and her husband are both first-generation college students—and the satisfaction is undiminished, even after 11 years of working with the group.
In addition to working with GBALI, Whitehead is also on the board of the Children’s Environment Health Network and the Northern Virginia Community Foundation’s Future Fund, where she chairs the education committee.
“Like Gandhi said, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” she says. “I think philanthropy helps with establishing priorities in life and helps build in gratitude and joy in different ways. It’s almost selfish: It’s not just for the person you’re doing it for. It really does anchor your life.”
The service-to-others commitment seriously took hold when she came to understand it was her turn to continue the family legacy of helping others. “When my grandfather passed away, during his funeral the pastor’s sermon was on ‘It’s your turn now.’ My grandfather was very community-oriented, and that was a wake-up call that it was my time to step into that place. It was a big turning point. I was writing checks and doing the occasional [benefit] walk before then, but it definitely became a focus of my life after that, both the philanthropy and the service to others.”
As for engaging others in her generational cohort, the most effective technique is to “be specific with your ‘ask,’” she says. “When I think about financial donations people make, we tend to do what people ask us for. Don’t just say, ‘Whatever you’re compelled to give.’ If you leave it open-ended, there’s a big difference between getting $200 and $2,000. If you just say $400, they’ll give $400.”
Charles Thomas Jr.
OAR of Fairfax County
Charles Thomas, 35, better known as C.T., is senior consultant/project leader for Tysons-based government contractor LMI and lives in Herndon with his wife, Manthanee, their 8-year-old daughter and newborn son.
Somehow he finds the time to work with restorative justice organization OAR of Fairfax County, where he is chairman of the board; act as treasurer of the board of Leadership Fairfax; and serve as a member of the Future Fund’s leadership committee.
“I knew philanthropy would be part of my mission at an early age,” Thomas says. “My parents instilled the notion of ‘service to others before self.’ They were ambassadors of service and did whatever they could, whenever they could to help others on their life journeys. My parents put a sign in our kitchen when we were kids that said, ‘It is nice to be important but more important to be nice.’ That mantra still resonates with me and guides my human engagement and activity.”
As a child, the Flint, Michigan, native was never far from the tragic side of the street—“I saw my first dead body at 7,” he says—but “I come from a tradition of love, service, sacrifice, hope, optimism, heroism, authenticity and commitment to excellence as a demonstration of human potential. My philanthropic activities are important to me because they allow me to embody Dr. Maya Angelou’s sentiment of ‘When you learn, teach, and when you get, give.’
“When I think of philanthropy, I do not categorically equate that to monetary engagement. I include the giving of time, resources and knowledge,” he says. “The value of philanthropic engagement became more apparent as I began to see and understand the value that such engagement has on others.”
As for promoting philanthropy to others his age, he says: “I explain the importance of my activities to my peers by offering anecdotes of how philanthropic engagement impacts lives and how that impact, financial or otherwise, is often the difference-maker in breaking the cycle of generational curses. I offer evidence of how philanthropic engagement changes the fabric of one’s being and in doing so gives them the willingness and ability to be a change agent in the lives of others.
“I engage others by telling real-life stories, stories from jails and from the street. Those stories to me are the heart and mind of a campaign. Philanthropic engagement in my heart truly changes the fabric of somebody’s being and gives them the willingness and ability to be changed and to change the lives of others. That’s what I say when someone asks why I do it.”
Gayle Bailey III
Bailey Team at Keller Williams
“I definitely would not consider myself a quote-unquote philanthropist,” says Gayle Bailey III. “When I think of philanthropy, I think of Bruce Wayne in Batman. I’m not a billionaire or anything like that.”
Not yet, anyway. He’s just 30, after all. The Realtor, leader of the Bailey Team at Keller Williams in Chantilly, lives in Fairfax with his wife, Jenna, a special education teacher, and their newborn, Breccan James.
“When I got out of [West Virginia University], I kind of felt like something was missing. I wanted to be involved with something, but I didn’t want to get involved in a charity where I would feel like just a body. I wanted to do something where I felt I was able to make a difference,” he says.
“There are a few organizations that I’m most involved in. The Future Fund is a great organization and charity. It’s not as hands-on as others, but it’s a great opportunity to help by pooling funds. I don’t have a $150,000 check to stroke, but I have $50 checks and $100 checks, and as I grow in my business and hopefully continue to be blessed and fortunate in my career, I’ll be able to give back more and more.”
He found the hands-on opportunity he wanted as committee chair of the Fairfax branch of Young Life Capernaum, the organization he spends the majority of his time helping.
“[Capernaum] is tailored to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages 14 to 22,” he says. “They do amazing things with weekly clubs and activities, and every summer they have a camp that supports all levels of disabilities—it’s the bulk of the financial burden they bear.”
His philanthropic needs were met, and profoundly so.
“The first time I went to [the camp], it was so eye-opening. Seeing it firsthand, I was willing to give all my heart and any money I could bear. A lot of the kids had never been to camp, or even away from home for the evening.
“I never had anybody in my family with any kind of disability, and I look at how I spend the bulk of my time and my energy and money—I’ve given to organizations that help people with disabilities,” he says. “For whatever reason, our heart has been open for all communities, but that one in particular.”
As for sharing his passions with his peers, it has to be personal.
“How do you convince others to help? That’s the million-dollar question,” he says. “Like anything, some people have it, and some people don’t. I think it’s what’s in your heart. Convincing someone to change their heart is pretty tough to do.
“[When asking others to contribute], know your ‘why.’ I’ve found that things that make the biggest impact, or the way to get people to cooperate, is showing them what the money is going towards … When people see and hear exactly what their money is going toward, they’re a million times more likely to donate and support.”
Tysons Corner Center, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Becca Willcox’s Experience in formal philanthropy began early, at age 16, working on events to support the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce’s Valor Scholarship Fund. In 2011 she was named the Chamber’s Humanitarian of the Year, the same year she was awarded the Woman of the Year title for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, bringing in $106,000 in 10 weeks for the cancer nonprofit.
But a change in jobs threatened to put the brakes on the 33-year-old Vienna native’s considerable charitable endeavors when, three years ago, she became the events and communications manager of Tysons Corner Center. A big job, to be sure, but still, that didn’t stop her. In fact, she shifted gears.
“Making the move to a company like [Tysons’ property management firm] Macerich and a venue like Tysons Corner Center was easy because of all of the great nonprofit work they do and the support they provide the local community,” she says. And in her first years she has, in effect, turned the shopping complex into “a huge platform to start mall-wide nonprofit initiatives with the backing of our whole shopping center, with corporate support.”
For example, 100 percent of the proceeds from the center’s gift-wrapping department go to benefit the Red Cross; during the holiday, charities set up their own donation-driven gift-wrap tables; the 2014 mall-wide Night of Charitable Giving saw 10,000 visitors supporting the works of more than 75 local nonprofits (in 2015, the mall did not charge for gift wrapping; instead organizations set up booths), and last year’s grand opening of the new plaza with a country music concert benefitted area shelters, nonprofits and the United Way.
“Combining what I am passionate about personally into my professional life is truly a dream come true,” she says. “I have the support of my employer, and I’m able to see the great works and changes to the county I grew up in, and that makes me feel pretty darn lucky.”
She finds it hard to say no—busy as she is, she’s the chairman of March’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Auction Committee for the 2016 ball—when an “ask” is made with passion and compelling information.
She finds it hard to say no—busy as she is, she’s the chairman of March’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 2016 ball—when an “ask” is made with passion and compelling information.
“To me, seeing someone who is well-informed about the mission and goals of their organization and their objectives interests me,” she says. “It makes me want to ask questions and learn more. Someone who can explain why I should care about what they care about—and convince me of that—is super exciting to me.”
Human Capital Strategic Consulting, Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia, Marymount University’s School of Business and Northern Virginia Workforce Development, Future Fund
Julie Simmons, 41, found early in her professional career several ways to become engaged with local philanthropy, and over the years she’s refined them to “three pillars of interest,” she says.
“Education—specifically science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and first-generation access to higher education; workforce development that creates a pipeline of jobs in our region; and next-generation philanthropy. I want to help my peer group understand what it means to be involved in philanthropy early on in their careers so they can use it as a tool.
“I find it useful for me to target my efforts in deeper ways with selective organizations. I can then develop stronger, lasting ties within these three communities.”
It’s a happy byproduct of doing good. She and others have found that philanthropic involvement is an excellent professional development opportunity, even if that’s not the goal.
Simmons, founder and managing director of Human Capital Strategic Consulting, lives in Fairfax with her husband, Greg, and her 4-year-old twins, Stella and Will. Her philanthropic endeavors include serving on the boards of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia, Marymount University’s School of Business and Northern Virginia Workforce Development. She’s also a founder of the Future Fund.
She quotes the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go farther, go together,” as part of her philanthropic strategy.
“For me the journey is all about the community you build and support along the way. I knew from a very young age I enjoyed the feeling of giving and volunteering … Working in organizations that support philanthropy helped me to understand the true cultural benefit of community giving. When I founded [my company] in 2010, I knew a cornerstone of the business would be giving back both financially and through service.
“For me, it’s understanding it’s not about just writing a check. You might not have funds to contribute what some other folks around the table are, but what you do have that might become an advantage is access to others.
“I might not have $200,000, but I know 200 people who can collectively give some money. It’s leveraging your network of peers. Beyond that, we have the time and energy to creatively engage.”
How does she avoid being turned down during an “ask”?
“[Engaging others], for me, is meeting someone on their level. It’s not necessarily ‘Can you give $100?’ It’s ‘What can you give?’ Can you give time? Influence? An endorsement? It’s not so much checking a box on a donation form as understanding the value, the goal or purpose of the interaction with the [potential donor] and then trying to meet them on their level. What makes them tick?”