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Want to be a philanthropist? To do good, follow your passions

Many Rochester-area professional women finds ways to help

Running a successful business and nurturing family life is a delicate balance. Yet many local professional women somehow manage to find the time to share their business expertise with nonprofit agencies.
If recent distribution of wealth is any indication, nonprofits will be increasingly looking to women entrepreneurs for support. According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, the number of $10-million-plus women-owned firms has increased substantially. Women now comprise 45 percent of American millionaires and by 2030, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute estimates as much as two-thirds of all wealth in the United States may be controlled by women.
For a local take, we asked several high-profile Rochester-area philanthropists to advise the next generation of businesswomen how to effectively give back to the Rochester community:


Heather Goodbody

Heather Goodbody

Heather Goodbody, Senior Vice President and Private Wealth Advisor of Goodbody & Associates at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
Before committing your time and money to a nonprofit, do diligent research, stresses Goodbody. “It takes time to understand how an organization is contributing to a community.”
Networking will be your most helpful tool in this process, she added. “Most folks who are established business people are always willing to share ideas if you give them a call or send a note or email asking for a few minutes of their time to learn about nonprofits. They’ll also get to know you and where your interests lie.”
Once you have identified some nonprofits that match your interests, visit their websites to see what volunteer opportunities are available, said Goodbody. At the same time, you can determine how financially healthy the organization is by reading its annual report, which is often posted on the website.
You will also want to understand the nonprofit’s chain of leadership and mission. To do this, said Goodbody, reach out to current volunteers and staff. “Feel free to ask pointed questions,” she added.
Goodbody has always sought out charities she finds personally meaningful.
“I believe philanthropy is a personal journey of self discovery of your values and your beliefs,” said Goodbody, who is currently vice chair of the board of trustees for Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women. “Associate yourself with organizations that reflect those values.”

Jill Knittel

Jill Knittel

Jill Knittel is president of JK Executive Strategies, an executive search firm. She is currently a board member of St. John Fisher College, where she earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Knittel is also a member of the Hillside Agency of Families board of governors and former chair of Bivona Child Advocacy’s board.
She believes everyone has a responsibility to give back to the community. Like Goodbody, she believes choosing where to bestow your “time, talent and treasure” must be done wisely. Her passion is children’s issues.
“You want to invest your time, talent and money in a cause you feel passionate about,” said Knittel. “Then, no matter how much they ask of you, you’re still ready to give.”
No matter how impressive your professional accomplishments, don’t get your heart set on nabbing a board seat straight away, said Knittel.
“Lots of nonprofits want you to get involved in a committee first,” she added. “Some not-for-profits use committees as a training ground for future board members—to see if they show up for meetings and what type of skill sets (they would bring) to the board.”
If you are just getting your feet wet in the charitable giving world, you may want to consider joining NextGen Rochester, a peer-led form of philanthropy that involves young professionals (ages 21 to 45) who want to give back through leadership, friendship and philanthropy. Members contribute to a fund that awards grants to selected nonprofits. By pooling their donations, emerging leaders are able to make a bigger impact in the Rochester area than they could individually.
Another organization, RochesterCares, works with community nonprofits to develop projects and then posts these opportunities online in a monthly calendar. RochesterCares also actively recruits volunteers for these projects.
The busier you get in life, and the more valuable you are to charities, the more difficult it may be to find the time. How does Knittel find time for her charitable work? “You have to make time,” she said. It helps that her husband and children are very supportive of her philanthropy. “They know how much it fills my bucket,” she said.
Learning how to say no is also vital, she adds. “Everyone would love to have you at every meeting and event but the nonprofits I’m involved in realize I can’t do that.”
Knittel is particularly proud of chairing a multiyear capital campaign to raise $5 million to secure a larger facility for Bivona Advocacy. “Bivona gave me more than I gave it. It’s such wonderful organization. The impact I was able to give will be with me for a long time.”

Christine Whitman

Christine Whitman

Christine Whitman is chair and CEO of Complemar Partners Inc., a Rochester-headquartered contract packaging, warehousing, and shipping firm and chairman and CEO Mosaic Microsystems.
She currently chairs the finance committee at the George Eastman Museum and recently stepped down as Rochester Institute of Technology board chair. Whitman is also a former chair of the Rochester Museum & Science Center board of directors.
Whitman began her philanthropy career by joining United Way committees in the late 1980s and early 1990s, assisting with fundraising. “It was a great opportunity to meet other business leaders who had similar challenges, as well as doing something for the community,” she said. “You learn so much more than you’re giving. You get to surround yourself with very intelligent people with great problem-solving skills.”
Whitman also cautions young professionals not to expect to secure a board seat immediately. Once you do get named to a board, be prepared to donate more than time—anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 annually. “If you are not in a position to do that, serve on a committee first, where you help raise money from other sources.”
If you put in the time, you will find a natural progression to your philanthropic efforts, Whitman says: “As an entrepreneur you build your business and grow it so as a volunteer, you bring some of that expertise to the table—strategies for growing and making (a nonprofit) more sustainable over the long haul.”


Jennifer Leonard

Jennifer Leonard

Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of Rochester Area Community Foundation, works with philanthropists and community partners in an eight-county region. The Community Foundation distributed $36.7 million in grants and scholarships last year.
Giving is nourishing professionally and personally, according to Leonard. “Philanthropy not only has its own rewards, it complements your work career,” she said. “The chance to volunteer, to serve on a board and even the opportunity to give to an organization that you understand and care about can be really healthy for you. Studies show giving is good for you.”
Philanthropy also gives young professionals a venue to try new skills, meet people, and “network in completely different ways than you might in professional life,” said Leonard.
She advises budding philanthropists to seek out a board development program, such as Leadership Rochester, where emerging and existing leaders meet monthly with community leaders to discuss important issues affecting Rochester and the surrounding suburbs. Leadership Rochester also offers a similar program for high school students. “They learn how business, government and unions work together—how civil life operates,” says Leonard.
For a donation of $1,000 or more, young professionals can join United Way’s African American Leadership Society, where they will be connected with other members and local leaders at United Way networking events. AALS membership includes access to leadership and career development opportunities. The United Way also offers leadership development programs for Asian Pacific Americans and Latinos.
“These events can be great fun and you can polish your skills in many different ways,” said Leonard, adding, “When networking, prepare thoughtful questions. You never know when you might have the chance to impress someone.”
Through these activities, you can network and discover which organizations could best use your particular skills. “It’s actually pretty easy,” Leonard said. “People love to be able to suggest you to a nonprofit nominating committee.”
Leonard has found that by serving on other boards, like the Center for Governmental Research, it broadens her community view. “It’s very helpful for me to understand the community through different lenses,” said Leonard. I take it back to my job and it improves what I’m able to do at RACF.

Lauren Dixon

Lauren Dixon

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a marketing communications firm that has been honored as a best place to work.
If you want to become a philanthropist, you’re in the right city, said Dixon, this year’s United Way board chair. “The best thing about our community is that women will help other women,” she added. “It’s amazing to me how much people give of their time to build up other women and people in general.”
Dixon recommends young businesswomen find a leadership mentor with a demonstrated philanthropic history.
A “mighty force” for young women philanthropists is the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Committee, which has 1,700 members who give $1,000 or more, Dixon said. Those investments are spent wisely: members of the Leadership Committee visit participating nonprofits every 90 days to determine whether set expectations are being met. “If they are not meeting their goals, the money is redirected to other nonprofits,” said Dixon.
“I’ve gotten so much out of the organization, personally and professionally,” she said. “I’ve gotten to meet other like-minded women who want to believe in and invest in their community.”
Another way to ensure that you will have the time and freedom to give back to the community is to join a company that puts an emphasis on charitable giving. At Dixon Schwabl, employees participate in the American Heart Association Walk/Run and are compensated for charitable work done on company time.
“The community has been so wonderful to our business. It’s our responsibility to get involved in a number of ways,” said Dixon, who also provides pro-bono services to local nonprofits.
Donna Jackel is a Rochester-area freelance writer.


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