From Survive to Thrive: Maximizing Your Impact on Philanthropy Day

I’m a recovering helper. The one who brings the casserole dish, and the flowers. And who calls you at 2am when your boyfriend just left, your cat is in the pet hospital and your mother-in-law is nagging at you so relentlessly that your conscience feels the weight of a 1955 Brisket Pan (I happen to have one and much like guilt, it is *heavy*).

Having spent the better part of a year asking myself how I got this way, I’m reminded of Martin Luther King’s night-time prayer, which I’ve said to myself for sometime now:

“G-d use me, what would you have me to do?”

Unfortunately, for years, I confused G-d’s words with the whims of others, losing all manner of sanity, sleep and recently, hair, over giving every part of myself to everyone else. This is complicated for me on a faith level as much as it is on an emotional one. My religion calls me to be communally available, open and attuned and yet, too much of that medicine is proving, well, venomous.

Though many have chimed in about the so-called disease to please and the Plato’s cave-like tunnel of our own demons, I have become taken with the notion that the experience of being helpful is actually, often, disguising, life lived for the sole purpose of survival.

What I mean to say is that we so often extol the necessity of our giving, that we mask some of the more complex or difficult reasons that drive our essence to give. And that this veil is clouding our organizations as much as it is clouding the best of ourselves.

Take organizations that are run through shame and guilt, for instance. They are always engaged in a push to get others to give but rarely are they fueled by something other than that which leaves donors and members exasperated and as it happens, exhausted.

It is impossible to work toward mission and vision when you are starving the people you work with of a purpose other than to make ends meet.

Even worse, is when our mode of giving actually sets us up to be taken advantage of. By saying “yes”, are we saying no to what matters to us and even more, to the work that needs to be done? By serving as someone else’s objects, are we neglecting to make ourselves and others active and engaged subjects standing where the world and we need to be?

Perhaps this Philanthropy Day, we can look a little closer at our dearest projects and causes and gently pull apart the barriers of our egos. And once we peel away the unnecessary parts, we can start to look at how we function not only within ourselves but in our workplaces and teams.

Serial helper and recent conscientious favour selector/objector that I am…these days, when I work with others, I ask myself the following

Four Questions for Thriving Leadership:

1. My heart asks: Do I get to fully be myself here, with you or in this?

2. My head  inquires: Can I and we change the operating rules, developing our work, our world and ours selves together for good?

3. My soul yearns: By doing this, am I operating from self-preservation or self-growth and affirmation?

4. Tradition requires: Is this a relationship in which I and all those I encounter are subjects…or objects?

In a week that provided sobering wake-up call after wake-up call for every human being to take up the task of world’s mending, too many of us are consumed by the ongoing cycle of crisis to muster up the awareness to put a spoke on the wheel. We are living to survive and in so doing, we are neglecting to thrive.

Yet, as this People of priests, and scholars, prophetesses and artisans can attest, we know this to be true:

Searching for our true self has always been the beginning of finding G-d and as it happens, each other.

By putting our focus on the best of others and ourself, we can make our philanthropy a force for good on Philanthropy Day and each and every day of the year.

And that is a mitzvah (good deed) in which we should pour all our hearts, heads and souls.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.
Decorated bags for care packages

The Healing Path of Career Polygamy

Sally Mundell is the founder of The Packaged Good, a non-profit focused on cultivating volunteerism in children. Located in the suburbs of Atlanta, the Packaged Good offers families the space and programming to assemble care packages for various non-profit community partners. The packages include anything from toiletries to school supplies, as well as personal notes of encouragement and care. The Packaged Good opened its doors in July 2016 and has produced over 16,000 care packages during its first year of operation. It also became a great source of healing for Sally and her kids after a tragic loss.

You recently gave a talk at an Emory University Alumni gathering titled “The Case for Career Polygamy: Turning Passion Projects into Profit.” What’s a career polygamist?

The title came from my frustration that LinkedIn only allows you to list one career path on your profile. When I list my career path, I have to choose between my start-up career and my work in the non-profit world. It’s unfortunate, because ultimately I don’t fit into one profile. I am equally invested in both my career and my passion work.

What’s your story? What is your passion work?

I had always worked in the start-up world, helping build businesses from the bottom up. I had a particular career trajectory and worked my way up to an executive position at Spanx, helping Sara Blakely develop the e-commerce side of the business.

Four years ago, my husband, Grover, passed away just a few weeks after getting suddenly  sick. This was a critical point in my life and the lives of our two daughters who were 2 and 5 years old at the time.

When Grover was sick, he knew that he might not survive, probably before I did. He shared with me that he wished he had done more to give back to the community. At the end of his life, Grover had this clarity and he said, “Don’t wait.”

Initially, I was just focused on getting through the grief and taking care of my girls.   As a single parent, I had to find ways to give back in the community together with my kids, or it would never happen. I was surprised to learn that there are almost no volunteer opportunities with little kids. Now, my passion work revolves around creating the space and the programming for families to volunteer together with their children.

How did you come up with the idea for The Packaged Good?

After Grover died, my kids and I often went to the Purple Hippo, a local art studio for kids. It was a place of respite for me when I needed a break.   Just as I was formulating my thoughts about a non-profit, the Purple Hippo was moving to a new location. I loved their space and concept, but assumed that I couldn’t afford the rent.   I decided to meet with the landlord who believed in my idea and wanted to help. It all lined up. I thought of the concept for The Packaged Good in January. By February, I was incorporated. The storefront was opened for business by June. I didn’t wait. I moved fast!

What was the adjustment like moving from a place where profit rules to a non-profit start-up? How do you measure impact today?

Instead of valuing money, the focus has shifted to valuing people and measuring how people’s lives are transformed by their volunteer experience. In the first year, we have made and delivered 16,000 care packages. I often get letters and messages of gratitude from people who receive our packages. There is an impact on our entire community.

Research shows that the more kids volunteer, the less they are susceptible to making bad choices. Volunteerism cultivates empathy and a sense of responsibility. For me, personally, volunteering has been a path toward healing and I am able to share that with others. When I talk about my pain, others feel more open about sharing their pain. It’s all about connection, despite differences in background and culture.

What does being Jewish have to do with your non-profit venture?

Of course, there is the underlying value of tzedakah that runs through what I do.   Interestingly, I became more connected with the Jewish community as the result of starting The Packaged Good. It was a path toward integration. Being Jewish is all about supporting each other. The more I was healed, the more I could connect with others and give more.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started The Packaged Good?

Yes. Don’t focus so much on what can go wrong. Have a start-up mindset and do not be afraid of creating new models. When I first started, people would scare me with worst-case scenarios or say things to me that would deter me from going forward.   I wish I had pulled them aside and said that I was not going to worry about that right now.

What have you learned through the experience of launching a non-profit, while working and single-parenting?

First of all, I learned that you need space and time to be creative. It wasn’t until I shifted my schedule to working part-time that I had the mind-space to actually come up with the plan for The Packaged Good. You have to have time to work on your inspirations.

Secondly, I have had to shift my strategic planning away from 5-10 year goals toward more manageable plans. I have had to let go of having answers for everything and become more comfortable with not knowing. Now, I am more open to the unfolding of the experience. When I first launched, I did all of the administrative and staff work. I had five people on an executive board. Over the last year, I have hired an executive director and my board is a diverse thinking group of 20 people with varied talents. I could not have predicted this development at the beginning.

I am constantly networking and I throw a wide net without a purpose in mind. It amazes me how many unexpected connections I make with surprising outcomes. For example, I was introduced to someone who is a day-trader by profession, but his personal passion is video streaming and online video sharing.   He is now creating much of our video content and helping us with Facebook Live.

How do you take care of yourself?

I grew up in a “do-it-yourself” household and asking for help was viewed as weakness.   It took me a long time to get comfortable with asking for help. I have had to get really good at formulating requests and allowing people to support me.

Running a non-profit is a lot of hard work. To get people involved and passionate takes tremendous effort. Volunteer burn-out is a real thing. I have learned to raise my hand and lean on my board. We recently hired an executive director to run the day-to-day operation, so that I can focus on marketing and brand-development, which is ultimately what I am good at.

Do you have any advice for social entrepreneurs?

It’s all about collaboration. There is not need to replicate what someone else is already doing. Partnerships are key.   For example, we have partnered with Pebble Tossers, a teen volunteer program that has become our source for teen participants. We also partnered with Creating Connected Communities, which helps Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids in Atlanta organize meaningful mitzvah projects.   It’s easier for us to plug into their programming, than have to create it from scratch.

What do you think Grover would say about The Packaged Good?

As a surviving spouse, my biggest challenge has been to keep Grover’s story and values alive for my kids. My kids are getting to know what was important to their father. The Packaged Good is a model of volunteering that is sustainable for families with kids. It shifts the experience from showing up to volunteer once per year, to having an engaging space where they can make a difference on a regular basis.   I don’t know if that is what Grover had in mind, but that is what is sustainable for our family.

Marita Anderson is a chaplain, freelance writer, educator, and parent.
She currently lives in Atlanta.