Teaching the Power of Philanthropy

October 16, 2012

Dr. Cyrous Ardalan is a young dentist at a local community health center. He has always supported worthy causes, maybe by attending that fundraiser or volunteering some of his time. But more recently, he’s found a different way to channel this giving impulse, and a new way of assessing its impact — even if this new approach might require a little explanation to his friends.

“When I first tell them I’m an emerging philanthropist it kind of comes off as well, ‘look at you,’ you know. I’m like, no, no, no,” he says, laughing a bit.

Dr. Ardalan is part of Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, or EPNO. This nonprofit was formed to teach young professionals the process, the power and the rewards of philanthropy, and to pool their own contributions to local nonprofits for greater effect.

“You can see how a small bit of money, whether it’s $1,000 or $10,000 really goes a long way with helping these organizations fulfill their missions,” says Dr. Ardalan.

EPNO was started by a group of friends, and it remains a grassroots, barebones effort, run entirely by volunteer members. Each year, EPNO gathers a new class of young professionals. They meet periodically over a six-month span and each contributes $500, an amount that’s doubled by matching funds from sponsors. The class then splits into teams, based on the community issues they want to support, and then get to work researching the nonprofits that apply for their grants.

“All the while, as they are having this hands-on, grant-making experience, we also educate them about philanthropy and the nonprofit community in New Orleans,” says Beth Shapiro Lavin, chairwoman of EPNO’s advisory board and a development professional for a local private school.

Even after a class distributes its grant funding for the year, she says that members tend to stay involved with their chosen causes. They might volunteer more of their time, organize their own fundraisers or promote the groups they’ve learned so much about. Because class members change every year, the particular issues they address may change too. But the overarching goal of Emerging Philanthropists is something much more long-term.

“It’s definitely our hope that beyond this program that people feel like the term philanthropists is de-mystified and that their contribution, whatever it may be — a dollar amount, or volunteer time or just being an advocate — is really valuable,” says Shapiro Lavin. “We are really building this network of individuals who are looking to do good for our community and nonprofits who are looking to do good for our community and trying to bring them together and keep those relationships going.”

For Dr. Ardalan, a recent transplant to New Orleans, the experience of Emerging Philanthropists has also enriched his relationship with his new home.

“I’ve been here since 2009 and definitely, without a doubt, I’d say probably every individual who goes through this class definitely feels like they’re a bigger part of this community,” he says. “Because you can kind of live New Orleans one way and appreciate all the social aspects of it but when you get involved in philanthropy on this level you really tend to appreciate what’s being done for the community on the ground level with individuals really in need.”

Written by Ian McNulty for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, click here.