Risa Mish

We can all give something.  And we should.  Because that is what it means to be connected to the communities to which we belong, and to demonstrate genuine caring for our fellow citizens of those communities.

Location: Ithaca, New York

Profession:  Senior Lecturer, Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Twitter:  @risamish

What are your Charities of Choice?:

United Way of Tompkins County (NY); Tompkins County (NY) Public Library Foundation; Women’s Fund – Community Foundation of Tompkins County (NY); Cornell University

I first became a leadership donor to the Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County after attending a luncheon at which their grant recipients spoke about the uses to which they would be putting their awards.  The Executive Director of one such recipient, the Women’s Opportunity Center, said that she would be using funds to purchase undergarments for women who were attempting to move from public assistance to independence and employment.  She explained that her clients would sometimes go to job interviews without any underwear on, because they did not own any and could not afford to buy it.  I was absolutely dumbstruck.  To think that there were members of my community for whom underwear qualified as a luxury! That exponentially changed my understanding of what “need” was.  I also realized that it was only because Women’s Fund volunteers had taken the time to identify that need, and others like it, that the rest of us were in a position to help meet it.  This is what the best non-profit organizations do:  identify needs of which we should not be (but sometimes are) unaware, and then make the case that these needs cannot and must not be ignored.

Who Inspires You To Give?:

The many exceptionally dedicated and skillful Executive Directors of Tompkins County non-profit organizations (James Brown, President of the United Way; Susan Currie, Executive Director of the Tompkins County Library; George Ferrari, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, to name just a few); the many outstanding volunteer leaders in this community;  and my original philanthropy inspirations, my maternal grandmother, Frances Shapiro Dubler, and my mother, Judith Mish, both of whom modeled the importance of giving “Time, Talent, and Treasure” back to the communities in which one is privileged to live.

What Motivates You to Give?:  

As a general matter, my philanthropy comes from my notion of what it means to be a citizen of a community — namely, a sense of responsibility toward one’s fellow citizens, and toward the community itself.  I am a citizen of many communities – some of which I define geographically, and some of which I define in other ways, such as the community of Cornell alumni and employees.

How Do You Give of Your Time?:

I currently serve on two non-profit boards (United Way of Tompkins County and Tompkins County Public Library Board of Trustees).  I also serve as the faculty advisor to the Johnson Board Fellowship, a student organization I co-founded at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.  JBF places 2nd year MBA students on the boards of local area non-profit organizations in the role of Visiting Directors.  Through this organization, our students gain exposure to and experience in the management of non-profit organizations.  My hope is that, after they graduate, the students will seek out similar opportunities at non-profit organizations in the communities of which they become a part.

If You Could Start Your Own Charity, What Would It Be?:  

Rather than further increasing the number of charities that exist, I’d prefer to see charities with like missions consider merging and combining resources.  The issues about which I care deeply are already being addressed by many different organizations.  I need only commit to supporting, and encouraging others to support, the most effective of these organizations.

What Advice Do You Have For Others to Consider Giving?:

Few things feel better, are more fulfilling, and are more important, than giving to a cause in which you believe.  If you think you don’t have the time, consider whether you are now spending time on the equivalent of “empty calories”.  (The answer for most of us is “yes”).  Devote that time instead to something that will have a genuinely positive impact on you and others.  If you think you don’t have the money to spare, find one small luxury that you could sacrifice one time this year; take the money you would have spent on that; and give it to a charity whose mission moves you.

In truth, most of us spend time and, at least occasionally, spend money without thinking.  An hour a month that we are now spending on activities that don’t actually fulfill us could instead be re-dedicated to a few afternoons of volunteer time a year donated to a charity that could really use our help.  Emptying the change from our wallet once a week into a “charity jar” could mean a $50-$100 gift at the end of the year to a charity that could really use that support.

We can all give something.  And we should.  Because that is what it means to be connected to the communities to which we belong, and to demonstrate genuine caring for our fellow citizens of those communities.

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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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