…What Do You Want to Achieve? This is the big idea. Do you want to stop world hunger or end homelessness in your community? Get clear on what you want to achieve and keep that focus. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the author presents this concept of “begin with the end in mind.” Next, visualize what it will look like when you reach that goal; this is crucial to get clarity. This is essential as you build a community of supporters. Moreover, you can better communicate what you’re trying to achieve in clear and concise terms. The greater the conviction and commitment to the “what” the greater the odds for getting it done.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How to Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Swift-Young.
Creative Collaborator, Social Impact Philanthropist, TEDxWomen speaker and Best-Selling Author.
Lisa is an experienced sales and marketing professional with more than 20+years of experience in pharmaceuticals, pharmacy, and academics. As the founder of two foundations and the executive producer co-host of a philanthropy podcast, she works with philanthropists and entrepreneurs making a difference in their communities. Her wanderlust and curiosity motivate her to champion new opportunities and adventures.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Karen, thank you for having me. It is a pleasure to connect with you. I have admired the work you are doing to raise the social consciousness around philanthropy and how philanthropy can make a lasting impact. My story begins with family. I come from a culture that values working cooperatively and building community. As the eldest child, I was the leader in my immediate family, and that leadership translated over to my large extended family. I identified with strong-willed women who valued cultural values, pursued higher education, and constantly explored their surroundings. My parents loved to travel. Although it was a novelty for African Americans in the early ’70s and 80’s to travel abroad, they embraced the opportunity to experience diverse cultures and gain new experiences. I distinctly remember one picture of my mom in Waikiki on the beach. She looked radiant and confident in her hot pink one-piece swimsuit. The pale blue sky complimented the powdery white sand. That picture served as a compass for how I live my life today. I am encouraged by vibrant colors and always ready for a new adventure.
You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
I have indeed had many opportunities to lead initiatives and people. However, I believe the three-character traits that have been the most instrumental are learning agility, gratitude, and empowerment.
First, learning agility requires me to challenge my thoughts and processes. This characteristic requires me to be comfortable challenging the status quo. As a leader, I believe that one must always stay curious. Asking questions like, “Why is this so?” or “How did we come to embrace this process?”. So often, we adopt patterns and processes handed down through protocols without understanding how they came to be.
As the dean at a community college, I interviewed several students and found they were ill prepared for handling work related conflicts. As first-generation college students, they needed resources to learn how to engage with employers and coworkers in corporate environments. As a result, I authored a conflict resolution workbook that we leveraged to help them developed the skills they needed to stay competitive and productive. These types of activities have encouraged me to reimagine my own journey to problem-solving.
Secondly, gratitude is necessary because it breeds better engagement, more positive interactions, and builds resistance. Countless studies validate the fact that gratitude fosters teamwork and promotes empathy. As a leader, I find it invaluable for creating a cooperative work environment. My team has had significant breakthrough ideas from strategy sessions that fostered honest and transparent conversation. When everyone feels safe to brainstorm without judgment, creative solutions are presented.
Furthermore, gratitude is an excellent reminder for leaders to acknowledge accomplishments. Thankfulness encourages me to focus on successes. One of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela is,” I never lose; I either win or learn.” The boldness of this statement sets the foundation for a culture that is not afraid to try something new. Being grateful for the process gives value no matter the outcome.
Finally, delegating can empower colleagues and employees. Delegating is a powerful way for leaders to show confidence in each person’s contribution. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” The smartest leaders should identify and nurture the unique talents of each team member.” A leader’s willingness to surround themselves with much more intelligent people will push them through diverse thinking and drive their organizations forward.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
I’d say that is more of an affirmation that I have confirmed. You get more then you give more. Through my podcast, I have had the opportunity to interview various business leaders and community leaders. I am fascinated by their philanthropic origin stories. The more I learn, the more I realize how impactful this work is to future philanthropists.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
My pleasure, both of my organizations, make an impact internally and externally. Internally, both organizations are headed by black philanthropists. This is significant because, in a 2020 study, 92% of foundation presidents and 83% of full-time staff members are white. This affects what initiatives get funding and how much they receive. Presently, Black-led foundations to receive less than 1% of all grants. As a founder and board member of two charitable organizations, my organization brings attention to the 11 Billion dollars annual contributions of black and brown philanthropists and donors in the United States. Our presence disrupts the status quo in the world of charitable organizations.
Externally, we are confronting and addressing the root causes of social inequity. Our three-part mission is to:
- Amplify black voices in philanthropy
- Address the wealth gap
- Advocate for community-based, Black-led nonprofits
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
As a black woman, I know that my community is generally viewed as needing help when in actuality, we’re the most philanthropic demographic in the United States. I want to honor our giving by leading a collective community-building initiative that redirects these to fund solutions. I know that we can make an impact in our community. However, I want philanthropic initiatives that create sustainable and systemic changes. Historically, initiatives have been reactive band-aids that only cover the wounds. I think it’s time to respond with restorative and reconciliation initiatives. I think of philanthropy as, money that gives a moment the momentum to become a movement.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
I was nominated for a corporate social responsibility award. That award directly correlates to the work that I do with the local sexual assault team and nationally recognized pharmacy. Through that alliance, I’ve been able to link more than 300 sexual assault victims with accessing prophylaxis medication against HIV. This initiative has impacted not only the women involved but also their families.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
First, Connect. Connect to why you want to give. Understand the feelings that motivate your giving, and you can find like-minded people to support and encourage you on that path. Additionally, engage with those you’re trying to serve and ask them what they feel are some solutions to the problems that they face. Frequently, nonprofits will ask for money to hire a lawyer or get some print work done, so sometimes those things can be augmented by some of the talents you may have to offer.
Second, Create. Allow yourself to be creative. Philanthropy involves using your time, your talent, and your treasures. All of us have unique gifts. My faith recognizes these as spiritual gifts. Using these innate gifts allows you to be creative. For instance, my family raises funds for our foundation through book sales we’ve authored. I’ve also known the artisans who donate their works to raise money or their time to teach the next generation a skill.
Third, Commitment. I cannot emphasize enough that philanthropy is really about commitment. It’s easy to give out of empathy and compassion, but that is short-lived. As a philanthropist, I’m looking for a long-term commitment, I counsel organizations to focus on one or two issues to make an impact.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Create a Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
- What Do You Want to Achieve?
This is the big idea. Do you want to stop world hunger or end homelessness in your community? Get clear on what you want to achieve and keep that focus. In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the author presents this concept of “begin with the end in mind.” Next, visualize what it will look like when you reach that goal; this is crucial to get clarity. This is essential as you build a community of supporters. Moreover, you can better communicate what you’re trying to achieve in clear and concise terms. The greater the conviction and commitment to the “what” the greater the odds for getting it done.
2. Where can you make the biggest impact?
It is important to be clear about what impact you want to make. Is it really easy to get overwhelmed with the vast number of ways to serve and give. The marketing term is finding your niche market. Finding a specific area that you are interested in can make an impact. My allegiance lies in social impact philanthropy, specifically addressing wealth inequity. I had to get honest with myself and look at specific areas that I thought would have more impact. The wealth-building initiatives we support through my philanthropic organization target black and brown women and young girls. We partner with nonprofits that have programs that teach financial literacy. This is the root cause of many of the challenges in the community I wish to serve.
3. Why Do You Want to Give?
It is important to know the why because it will get hard and there will be setbacks that will be challenging. Understanding and being clear on the “Why” you do it helps you stay focused when those challenges appear. The “why” is the reason that you feel compelled to be the person to produce a solution. The reason you feel drawn to this purpose. The ‘why” is communicated in the organization’s mission or vision. The “why” of why we are doing what we’re doing helps the people you work with and those coming to your organization to understand the organization’s core values.
4. Who Can Collaborate with You?
I come from a culture that values cooperation and community-mindedness. So, collaborating with like-minded organizations helps me build a stronger foundation for my cause. Furthermore, this platform will help you expand and scale your idea. Maximizing resources internally and externally available to you is essential for you to have a lasting impact. In my capacity as a regional account executive, I have been able to raise more than 250,000 dollars for organizations by cultivating partnerships with corporations and community organizations.
5. How will you measure your impact?
As a corporate executive, I know organizations expect meaningful ways to measure success. It is important to remember that most foundations answer to boards or stakeholders that want results. It is said, “ people respect what you inspect,” It is essential to capture how your initiative is making an impact. This also becomes an excellent opportunity for leaders to set milestones that they can celebrate and continue to motivate their team towards bigger goals.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
The pandemic has changed my definition of success to include the greater good. I started the foundation with the understanding that financial literacy was something that could help communities thrive. However, the pandemic exposed that not having financial literacy could dictate if communities survive. This shift created a sense of urgency on getting this message out to as many people as possible to affect long-term success and immediate viability.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
Honestly, I consistently gain inspiration from Stacey Abrams. In her TED talk, she makes the point to “not allow setbacks to set you back.” This statement reminds me that although things don’t always work out the way I planned. I can take what I’ve learned from the process to build back better.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Karen, thank you for this platform to share my vision for the role of philanthropy for making a positive impact in communities. I think Jackie Bouvier Copeland’s work at the Black Philanthropy Foundation is foundational to getting this message to the masses. I have also been following the work of Mary Rusimbi at the African Women’s Leaders Network in Tanzania. These women offer a blueprint for developing organizations that leave a lasting legacy. I would welcome to the opportunity to collaborate and learn how my organizations can be advance their missions.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
My pleasure. I welcome the opportunity. I invite readers to learn more about my family foundation, Change We Seek, and discover more about my Give Black, Give Back initiative. Additionally, I am a featured speaker at TEDxWomen- ColePark 2021. I’d love to get your feedback and hear your comments.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
Karen, it has been a pleasure. Thank you.