Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Growing citizen philanthropy in Philadelphia and Detroit

July 26, 2012, 12:09 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

citizeneffect

Detroiters gathered at Crank Up the Cause to learn more about Citizen Effect's Detroit4Detroit initiative. Photo Credit: Khaaliq Thomas for Citizen Effect.

Growing up, Clarence Wardell cultivated a love of learning and technology at the Detroit Area Pre College Engineering Program. So when he came across Citizen Effect’s Detroit4Detroit, a platform that helps people find projects that meet their interests and raise funds to support them, he immediately joined to help send one student from the Detroit area to spend a summer learning about engineering at the University of Michigan.

Through the platform, which is supported by Knight’s Technology for Engagement Initiative, Wardell was able to leverage his existing social networks to raise $2,000 for the program. He was the first of 150 people participating in Detroit4Detroit to meet his fundraising goal.

Citizen Effect, part of a growing citizen philanthropy movement that seeks to democratize giving, is expanding to Philadelphia with the Philly4Philly campaign. Knight caught up Citizen Effect’s Founder and CEO Dan Morrison to find out what excites people about being engaged in local philanthropy efforts, how he defines success and more.

What do you mean by the term citizen philanthropist?

D.M: When you hear the word "philanthropists," you think of Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Ford and other titans of industry.  But that's a vastly incomplete definition. A citizen philanthropist may not have a lot of money to give, but they have the passion to lead a critical community project and raise the money from their friends, family and social networks.

What excites people about being engaged with Citizen Effect?

D.M.: Results. When a citizen philanthropist holds an event or sends an email that results in donations, they get excited because their fundraising strategy is working. And when they receive photos of and a report on their completed project, they feel like they can change the world, because they in fact have.

What are some examples of what people in each city are up to?

D.M.: Michele Whitehead, a Detroit native, is raising money for a reading program for low income youth with Wellspring. She’s raised $1,250 of $1,500 via a walk-a-thon and received in-kind food and water donations from local businesses. Gerard Smith, a rising senior at Gross Point High School, heard about Detroit4Detroit's Crank Up the Cause on WDET and asked his dad to take him. He signed up to raise money for a music therapy program for homeless kids and has raised $785 of $1,000. Eli Kahn, a fellow at LIFT Philly (a Philly4Philly nonprofit partner) is one of the first Philly4Philly citizen philanthropists. As a child, he beat cancer and since has raised over $100,000 for cancer research at John's Hopkins University by having people donate used printer cartridges and recycling them.

Although the goals in Philadelphia and Detroit are similar, what differences do you see in implementing the projects in each community?

D.M: Each city is unique and has its own set of challenges. In Detroit, many of our projects focused on urban revitalization. In Philadelphia, we found that public safety was an area where people wanted to focus. We also learned things in Detroit that we are applying to Philadelphia. In Detroit, we found out our nonprofit partners (who provide us the community projects) are a great source for identifying citizen philanthropists. So in Philadelphia, we are working more closely with nonprofits to help them market Philly4Philly to their supporters so they can become citizen philanthropists.

Who are some of the local partners you’re working with?

D.M.: Of our Detroit4Detroit partners, the ones that really kicked butt are the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, which funded projects that connected at risk youth with engineering programs at universities. The Coalition On Temporary Shelter has great projects like providing additional beds and music therapy for homeless kids. And Wellspring provides Kumon tutoring for low income children in Brightmoor. We also have a growing list of Philly4Philly partners.

What does success look it?

D.M.: It’s twofold.  It's demonstrating that citizens, 300 of them, have the power to have a real impact in their communities and to understand that even at an individual level we have the ability to make our lives and the lives of our neighbors better. Citizen Effect is providing people the training, tools and technology they need to be the change they want to see in the world. Success is also the impact this experience has on the citizen philanthropists themselves. We are empowering the next generation of civic leaders in Detroit and Philadelphia and are excited by the skills they’ll acquire. We hope to be an onramp to greater civic engagement, social entrepreneurship and good citizenship.

Related: Rishi Jaitly, program director/Detroit at Knight Foundation, writes about the value and power of unlocking citizen philanthropy.