Lee Solomon

Philanthropy is an exercise in answering the question “Who am I?” and your giving is an opportunity to build a track record that shows people who you really are.

Location: Chicago, Illinois

What was the first charitable gift you ever gave?:

I was in ninth grade and I had just started a new high school and was making friends. A group of friends were participating in a walk for American Cancer Society. You only needed to raise $20. If you’d raised $100, you would get a red balloon. I thought it was really important to walk with that balloon.

Now I don’t live off my parents. If a cause is important to me then I find $100 in my own funds.I live on a budget, so to make a charitable gift means I am foregoing some other use I can put those dollars towards. This is why I think carefully about sizing a gift relative to its impact, both in terms of what giving at that level shows about my personal commitments and what how it will help the recipient organization achieve more better outcomes.

Giving requires me to always work on refining my personal philanthropic mission – what is most important to my philanthropic legacy and who are the people or organizations best positioned and equipped to accomplish this. Since I am still young and finding my way, the organizations I support change every few years, but the ultimate purpose and goal of my philanthropy has become more clear and defined.

What is your charity of choice?:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – they do really cool and innovative work at the intersection of education and Jewish identity, both of which I’m passionate about.  The people I’ve met at their programs  are there to learn, are engaged, and, refreshingly, exhibit an intellectual curiosity that is unusual to see at your typical charity happy hour event. I’m involved with the Associate’s Board of their Next Generation group in Chicago. Recently they had a program featuring Eli Rosenbaum who is the DOJ attorney responsible investigating and prosecuting alleged perpetrators of Nazi crimes living in the United States. I was really blown away.

Who inspires you to give?:

I feel my giving is really unique to me and my own journey in life. There isn’t any organization “on my radar” that I give to only because my family or friends have a connection to it. I kind of began to understand why people give and how they make giving choices in my first job out of college when I worked in professional fundraising. This helped me understand how philanthropists think strategically about giving. I no longer work in this field, but I work for a committed philanthropist and take some pride in his giving since I think we are fairly closely aligned in the causes important to us.

What motivates you to give?:

I look it as there are certain things in my life that have made me who I am. I like who I am, for better or for worse, and take pride in the life I lead by demonstrating my commitment to the things who have made me this person. Philanthropy is an exercise in answering the question “Who am I?” and your giving is an opportunity to build a track record that shows people who you really are. Many people can talk a big game about what’s important to them, but to me it’s more important to show, not tell.

How do you give of your time?:

Philanthropy can be a pretty lonely journey. I’ve found that the things important to me might not be the things important to your friends, in which case philanthropy can really tell you who your real friends may be. I wish I knew more people who shared some of my philanthropic interests and would be more eager to volunteer my time for organizations alongside like-minded people. Let’s say that my New Year’s Resolution is to volunteer at least 3 times this year.

What advice do you have for others to consider giving?:

Try to think of a few different things you’ve benefited from in your life and if they have relied on resources from supporters. I’d recommend making a gift to preserve their work for the benefit of others. –Think about whether an organization has had a positive impact on you. If so, find out if there is anything you can offer—time or money—to step in and ensure that others continue to benefit from that experience.. Take it slow because it can be a frustrating process. I’ve supported organizations that disappointed me and I didn’t feel good about it. You will have some failures in terms of your philanthropy to appreciate the winners. Move on and learn from the mistakes and work toward finding the perfect one. I feel like I’m giving dating advice, but it’s the same—you’re looking for a good fit!

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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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