Why the ‘Why’ matters in philanthropy

To give most effectively, ensure your giving aligns with your values, latest Women For Philanthropy event suggests

A Zoom screenshot of the first-ever online Women for Philanthropy event of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Kathy Gershman, professor emeritus at the University of North Dakota, learned the importance of philanthropy at an early age. A scholarship, which was both “a shock and a delight” for her, made attending a parochial school possible; the cost otherwise would have been beyond the means of her parents, who were raising five children.

That personal experience has stayed with Gershman, shaping her reason to now give back through the Hal and Kathleen Gershman Family Foundation.

It is her “why.”

Gershman recounted her story during the UND Alumni Association & Foundation’s latest Women for Philanthropy event, which carried the headline, “Your Why Matters.”

“Your ‘why’ drives you,” said AA&F CEO DeAnna Carslon Zink, who hosted the conversation. “It drives me. It helps lift you up and helps keep you striving for more.

“We need to continue searching for our purpose even more strongly during these times of uncertainty and turmoil like we face today.”

The annual event invites women of various backgrounds to share insights about their charitable work. This year, due to COVID, Women For Philanthropy took place over Zoom. On Tuesday, Carslon Zink facilitated a discussion with Gershman and Angie Freeman, who sits on the Foundation’s board and serves as the chief human resources officer of CH Robinson, a transportation and logistics company based in Minneapolis.

The three talked about their motivations to donate money and time as well as the new courses women are charting in philanthropy today.

“It is really important to discover your ‘why’ to ensure that you are giving to something that aligns with your values and the way you live your life,” said Freeman.

Together with her husband and three kids, she champions causes that focus on education and children. As the president of CH Robinson’s foundation, she also molds a philosophy of corporate philanthropy that creates opportunities for the less fortunate.

Freeman’s guiding philanthropic tenet is “Reaching out and lifting up,” she said.

Empathy and effectiveness

Women see philanthropy as an emphatic gesture, an extension of themselves, Freeman said. But how women donate has changed over the years.

If a generation or two ago, men controlled their family’s finances, more and more women are now making their own decision about giving. Citing research, Freeman said that women tend to give back larger amounts and to do so more frequently than their male counterparts.

These generational and gender shifts in philanthropy underscore women’s support for causes they feel connected to. And, if women give from the heart, they also give with their minds, Freeman said. When making donations, women are more likely to consult experts and to seek proof of their gifts’ impact. Young women, or those who belong to the millennial and Gen-Z generations, are increasingly drawn to group fundraising, which amplifies even small personal contributions.

And although they may be wealthier than their mothers and grandmothers, women today have not turned their backs on the traditional philanthropic act of donating their time.

“You don’t have to write a check to make a difference,” said Gershman. “You can do a lot with what you have: time.”

Freeman has a term for these kinds of donors: time philanthropists.

Those in need at UND

Throughout the hour-long event, Gershman, Freeman and Carlson Zink tied their points to the AA&F’s efforts to help UND students weather the challenges of the pandemic. The two main vehicles the Foundation is using are the academic Open Door Scholarship and the Angel Fund, which covers non-school-related expenses such as rent and groceries.

“Life is tough enough without having to worry about tuition, groceries, rent and car payments and stuff like that,” said Gershman.

So far this academic year, the Angel Fund has helped more than 200 UND students (about a half of all who have applied), who received an average of about $700 each. Yet, since August alone, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity and Associate Dean of Students Cassie Gerhardt has received upwards of 100 new requests for financial assistance through the Angel Fund. She said that at the current rate, the fund will be soon depleted, given the heightened demand.

With the Angel Fund and the Open Door Scholarship, ““even if it’s a small amount, it will go a long way to getting [students] over this hump of whatever adversity they’re facing right now,” said Freeman. “If you can just get them through that, they are going to do amazing things.”

Readers can donate to the Angel Fund and the Open Door Scholarship on AA&F’s website.