The Next Generation of Philanthropists
Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans is a diverse group of young professionals aged 25-39 who want to make a difference in New Orleans. Formerly called the Crescent Civic Engagement Fund, EPNO attracts individuals from a wide range of hometowns, backgrounds and professions who are committed to effecting positive change in New Orleans. The idea is simple: Each member donates $500, which is matched dollar for dollar by outside sponsorships. The class divides into issue-based teams that are selected based on the interest of the participants. Grantmaking teams change every year, and have included education, arts, economic development, environment, healthcare and housing. Over the course of six months, each team manages an entire grant process — developing focus statements, issuing RFPs, reviewing applications, conducting site visits, and awarding grants. EPNO’s fund is held and administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which was one of EPNO’s early supporters.
Governed by a 12-member advisory board comprised of program alumni, EPNO and its alums are committed to inspiring philanthropy in a new generation of New Orleanians that will pave the way for the future of our city. Realizing that young people may not have the financial assets of their parents and grandparents, EPNO has reached out to the young professionals of New Orleans with the message that anyone can be a philanthropist, and that there is power in numbers. With small gifts from a group of committed individuals, the impact can be huge. Although giving circles are nothing new, EPNO is unique in that it presents a self-sustaining model both financially (program alums secure matching gifts for all current participants’ donations) and in terms of leadership (alums run the program for future classes). This unique model sets EPNO apart.
The concept is catching on. The group began operating in 2009 with a pilot class of 18 individuals. Since then, EPNO has experienced tremendous growth: From 2010 to 2011, the applicant pool grew by 75%, with a total of 70 individuals competing for 35 slots in the 2011 Class. “It’s pretty unbelievable,” says Lauren Jacobs Benjamin, a member of EPNO’s advisory board and one of the 18 original EPNO members. “A bunch of working professionals in their 20s and 30s — a traditionally busy and over-committed demographic without much disposable income — are competing to donate their hard-earned income and six months of their time. Young professionals are looking for ways to impact their communities as active philanthropists. EPNO is providing that opportunity.”
In 2011, a group of dedicated EPNO alumni have volunteered more than 200 hours so far to organizing the program. They’ve worked tirelessly to create a schedule, develop curriculum, and plan events for these future philanthropists. While grantmaking can be painstaking work, EPNO members and alums are encouraged to have fun, and use the experience as an opportunity to connect with other like-minded young professions in the area.
Since its inception, the group has distributed $47,000 in grants to 13 local nonprofits. The EPNO advisory board encourages its members to think beyond dollars, however. Knowing that these young philanthropists bring a wide array of skills with them, they encourage members to connect with nonprofits to provide their intellectual capital as a contribution, whether it is proficiency in law, marketing, fundraising or another valuable asset. In fact, more than 80% of each class has volunteered or plans to volunteer with the organizations they made grants to. Additionally, many nonprofits that are looking for younger board members have contacted EPNO to connect with their alums.
The value of EPNO is visible not only in the time and money that its members commit, but in the ranks of those young professionals in New Orleans who were empowered by their experience and are poised to become the community leaders and philanthropists of tomorrow.