Kevin Scelfo


Jacqueline Novogratz inspires me. She founded Acumen Fund, which, in their words, is a venture capital fund for the poor.  They don’t look to make VC like returns, but rather provide “patient capital” to entrepreneurs looking to make large changes in challenged regions.  I really hope that someday I can run a fund like she does.

Location: New York, New York

Profession: Endowment Fund Cornell Weill / Columbia Presbyterian

What was the first charitable gift you ever gave?

Kiva :I found out about the organization when I was living in London.  A colleague knew someone who was involved in launching it and during our banking training I learned about it and have been involved since 2006. Through Kiva you lend capital to entrepreneurs of your choosing in developing nations and they pay back the loan over time (there is no interest paid).  I enjoy supporting people trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.  I also enjoy watching the business grow over time as you receive updates from the borrower through the duration of the loan.  Kiva appealed to my capitalist mind – essentially it’s crowdfunding microfinance.

Every time I travel to a developing nation, I’ll check Kiva and see who from that country is looking for funding.  For instance, when I went to Mongolia for work last year, I found an entrepreneur looking to start their own general store and contributed to their campaign.  You don’t know where exactly they are in the country, but you see pictures, so in theory you could track them down.

What is your charity of choice?

I have to pick two:  The Make-A-Wish Foundation and Puppies Behind Bars.  I’ve been a volunteer for these organizations for seven and five years, respectively.  They’re both fantastic for their own reasons.  Most people know the mission of Make-A-Wish and I volunteer as a “Wish Granter” where I meet with the families and the child to discuss and develop their wish.  We talk about what the child likes to do and, ideally, their one true desire in life, to develop the Wish. There are many ways to get involved, but it’s a lot of work, it’s not like you go for a few hours and that’s it.  You stay with the kids through the Wish, which may last a few months or even a year or more as there’s a lot of back and forth with the family.

One girl’s story stands out.  Her family moved here from Bangladesh for better medical care when she was a young child.  Her Wish was to meet President Obama to thank him for letting her come to the States and get healthy.  Two years after the initial Wish, it happened! She took photos with him and loved it.

PBB is a foundation that trains guide dogs in prison by prisoners for use as service dogs by military vets.  I volunteer as a puppy host and have the pups on weekends to socialize them to the world outside the confines of prison.  As we speak, I’m eagerly awaiting 13 month old white lab – Puppy America.  When I was younger, I had a dog growing up and have always loved dogs.

 Who inspires you to give?  

Jacqueline Novogratz.  She founded Acumen Fund, which, in their words, is a venture capital fund for the poor.  They don’t look to make VC like returns, but rather provide “patient capital” to entrepreneurs looking to make large changes in challenged regions.  I really hope that someday I can run a fund like she does. I think what Acumen does is a lot more difficult than what I do in banking.  We are trying to make money – there’s only one consideration.  She’s trying to get money back, so you have to be business savvy, but you also want to make a positive social impact.

What motivates you to give?

I feel most for those that are struggling through no fault of their own: children with terrible illnesses or those living in an impoverished region for instance. I go to these third world countries and meet these children through Make-A-Wish, I don’t see how you couldn’t feel for them.

What advice do you have for others to consider giving?

Aside for choosing a cause you care about, choose an organization that works within your lifestyle.  There have been plenty of causes I’ve been excited about in the past only to have to step back when I couldn’t give them my full attention.



About

Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.


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Why We Give tells stories of ordinary philanthropists, making a difference, dollar by dollar and hour by hour.  

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