"It's really about engaging individuals, not just saying, 'Look, we want you to give money,' " says Chris Lawson, campaign director and YPSHARES coordinator for Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati. "We want them to be informed. We believe in choice in philanthropy. We want to mold a philanthropic plan around an individual -- not just about giving money, but one's time and human capital to causes.
"Some YP groups are trying to be as broad and encompassing as possible to appeal to many individuals. That's where we are a little bit different. We're not interested in being broad. YPSHARES has a niche market. We know that not everybody's going to be on board when we're talking about social advocacy with reproductive rights or former prisoners' rights or environmental justice. We're not trying to appeal to everybody. We're trying to appeal to people who have a passion for this type of cause, this kind of activism. It's quality versus quantity."
´Engaging the future'
YPSHARES uses the tag line, "Not your parents' workplace giving" because its focus is that of a new generation -- an advocacy-focused way to approach giving.
Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati (www.cintishares.org) describes itself as a partnership of local non-profits that collaborate to build social and economic equity along with a healthy environment. They do this through building public awareness about member organizations and by raising funds to support their non-traditional programs, which might lobby politicians for better public policy or hand out condoms to people who are living with HIV.
Because it's on the front line of many essential but not necessarily well-known or popular causes in the community, YPSHARES is as much a clearinghouse of information about local social justice issues as it is a resource for finding volunteer opportunities. Lawson, who has been working with others to create the foundation for YPSHARES over the past year, believes that is essential for people to make informed choices.
He says many of the member groups are looking for new perspectives and new people to serve on boards to help with the future development of their activities. One such group, also a Community Shares member organization, is the League of Women Voters.
"The League … has stated several times they want to get YPs engaged," Lawson says. "They want them to see the value in civic responsibility, voter empowerment, to see that kind of need for understanding the impact of voting. There have been some studies that show there is a generally cynical feeling about voting and if it really matters. Here you have a League that has the institutional knowledge to know that voter participation is invaluable to a democratic society. They understand the historical precedent of voting."
Building on the hard-won knowledge, existing non-profits are expecting retiring baby-boomers to move away and slow down their volunteer work. This potential "brain drain" doesn't have to be devastating if a group is willing to embrace a new generation of activists.
"Organizations are out there engaging the future leaders in corporate America," Lawson says. "We want to be the organization that engages and educates future leaders about social justice. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
"They can be on the ground marching or in corporate board rooms explaining the benefit of having Community Shares and the United Way in their workplace as a way to present a broad array of philanthropic opportunities."
After receiving funding from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to get YPSHARES up and running, Lawson says his group is already getting calls and e-mails asking about how to get involved. Even though the primary objectives for the group are set -- including "increasing the profile of social justice causes in the community" and "members (who) are well informed advocates for those in need in our community" -- specific projects are being planned that will embody the principles of Community Shares (See "Community Spirit," issue of Feb. 1, 2006).
"Something like a progressive film festival -- something that meets the overarching themes of … social justice: social, economic and environmental justice," Lawson says.
As a member of Mayor Mark Mallory's YP Kitchen Cabinet, Lawson serves as chair of the Civic Engagement Committee and is already building collaborative relationships with local organizations -- YP and otherwise -- to broaden the network of YPSHARES. Citing the use of technology and the professional ambitions of his peers, Lawson believes there are many easy, fun and effective ways to spread the word about social justice.
"We want to act like that intermediary, where we connect people who have the passion, have the dedication but may not have the knowledge of where to go and put their passions and interests," Lawson says. "We want these to be well informed advocates to be able to address key economic development issues, spearhead advocacy projects for the people and causes most in need."
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