This blog post was authored by Lelia Gowland, co-chair of the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). We invited Lelia to introduce EPIP members to EPNO after we learned about their work and discovered synergies among our respective missions and values.
As a native New Orleanian, I’ve benefited from philanthropy and witnessed the way it transforms communities. Post-Katrina, my mother was fortunate to have a job and friend’s home to return to after our home was destroyed.
During one trip to our flooded home shortly after the storm, my mother and I noticed a parked Red Cross van advertising free hot meals and pulled over to thank the volunteers for coming. The warmth and generosity of spirit they demonstrated has me tearing up a decade later as I write this.
The meals weren’t what mattered for us personally; we had the luxury of electricity at our friend’s home and resources to buy food. What resonated with us and provided comfort was the volunteers’ investment in our community, their commitment to caring for the individuals impacted by the storm.
Post-Katrina, area nonprofits saw an influx of funds unlike anything before. Regardless of what issue foundations or individuals were investing in, the impact of this burst of resources on the region was transformative, invaluable, and inevitably unsustainable. As Katrina fatigue set in and donors reallocated resources, the region has had to adjust accordingly. What remains clear is that strategic philanthropic investment has the power to make change.
I applied to be a member of the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO) in 2013 because I wanted to become a more thoughtful, strategic donor myself. Having worked in fundraising professionally and contributed to causes personally, I’d been on both sides of the donation equation. But, I’d mostly contributed reactively to organizations to which I’d felt a responsibility (nonprofits of which I was on the board, my alma maters etc.), to friends’ causes when the donation “ask” was personal. Particularly since I knew women are more apt to give emotionally, I made a resolution to donate proactively and with greater intention.
EPNO is a six-month program that educates participants about philanthropy and the New Orleans nonprofit community, while providing a hands-on, grant-making experience. My team members in Education and Youth Development were selected through a competitive application process and matched with one another based on our shared interests.
By combining a $500 contribution from each participant with matching funds from alums and other donors, my team had $10,000 to allocate to the nonprofit(s) of our choice. For most of us, $500 was the largest single gift we’d ever made. The EPNO program and our pooled resources encouraged us to think more critically about the grants and our potential impact than we might have otherwise. As a team, we learned how to develop focus statements, evaluate grant proposals, and conduct site visits to select our grantees.
Like EPIP, EPNO brings together the time, talent, and treasure of young professionals—a traditionally busy and over-committed demographic lacking disposable income. These individuals, a mix of Louisiana natives and newcomers, are looking for meaningful ways to connect and make a difference in our community. Through EPNO, I met one of my best friends and expanded my network of motivated young professionals committed to improving their community.
EPNO’s longer-term impact is in creating the next generation of philanthropists. By bringing in experts and providing a hands-on opportunity to engage with peers and experienced philanthropists, EPNO works to ensure class members develop a rich understanding of grant-making, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector as a whole. My peers and I stay engaged with EPNO, our grantees, and have a strong relationship with the nonprofit community.
As I often say when recruiting new class members, of all of my volunteer activities in 2013, EPNO was decidedly the most efficient, effective, and enjoyable use of my time. So much so, that I decided to join the board the following year and am now serving as board co-chair. As an entirely volunteer run organization, EPNO attracts people who are deeply committed to engaging and inspiring the future philanthropists and leaders of New Orleans.
Ten years after the storm, I continue to see the tremendous impact of philanthropic investment in our community. I’m so thankful to the founders of EPNO for their vision in ensuring my city has a committed and enthusiastic next generation of philanthropists.
Lelia Gowland is the co-chair of the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans and a 2013 class member.