The next giants of philanthropy

Emily Abbas | SVP, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Bankers Trust

The Idea: We are often told we are “standing on the shoulders of giants,” or the small group of visionaries who were instrumental in helping Des Moines become what it is today. It is up to each of us to continue building a culture of philanthropy while including more youth and young professionals so the group of “giants” grows and becomes larger and more diverse. By doing this, we will make our growing community even stronger.

There are giants among us. Not typical storybook giants, but rather the people who lead our community to greatness. They lead committees, fund projects and bring ideas to life. While each of them is a visionary in his or her own right, they weren’t always giants of our community. Many were eager young professionals and volunteers before they became business executives, elected officials or philanthropists. For most, it was several decades before the impact of their efforts was realized and recognized. But that greatness was always there.

Nearly every big idea that has made our community special happened because a group of generous individuals both dreamed big and brought their concepts to life. Without their ideas and fundraising, we wouldn’t have some of the things we often take for granted, such as a Civic Center, Botanical Garden, skywalk system or thriving art scene.

The next generation of giants is already among us. The youth and young professionals in our community also have many big ideas. But we must ask: Have we properly taught them how to bring those ideas to life and the importance of giving generously of both time and money?

I believe the answer is “yes,” and I have seen many great examples, including:

  • United Way of Central Iowa’s newest affinity group, LINC, is made up of professionals age 30 and under who give at least $250 per year. In the group’s first two years, it has grown exponentially. At Bankers Trust alone, we saw LINC membership grow from seven in 2017 to 19 in 2018. These are young professionals who are giving their time and dollars to make sure our community’s essential needs are met.
  • Drake University’s Student Alumni Association is one of largest student organizations on campus. Each fall, the group organizes a Philanthropy Week (I Heart Drake Week) to teach students about the importance of giving back and encourage them to make a habit of giving while they are students vs. waiting until they graduate. In addition, they are told about philanthropist Maddie Levitt. Sharing Maddie’s story has allowed SAA to highlight the important lesson of giving back and making a lasting difference. This effort helped significantly increase donations to the university by both students and recent graduates. With this targeted effort to educate and motivate students, student giving increased from 129 to 337 last year.
  • The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines does great work to match donors with community projects needing funding. Most individuals don’t start their careers thinking they may need this service, so it is up to us to help educate them early.

There are so many great things happening in our community, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without the vision and generosity of a few. It is up to each of us to continue that giving spirit, while passing it on to others and expanding our cast of giants. >