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Meet Susan Benford of The Philanthropy Connection in Cambridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Benford.

Susan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I joined The Philanthropy Connection (TPC) because I was attracted to its mission: a group of multi-generational women donate into a common grants pool and then collectively vet and vote on which Boston area non-profits receive funding. In this model, a “philanthropist” is one who contributes her time and talents, as well as donations, to non-profits working to improve the lives of marginalized, low-resource communities. Additionally, TPC is committed to educating the next generation of women philanthropists. Our Young Philanthropists, who constitute 20% of our roughly 300 members, are those 35 years old and younger who are committed to collective giving. This Young Philanthropist program has been replicated by other collective giving groups across the U. S.

I was elected President of TPC in July, 2016 as the successor to co-founder, Marla Felcher. Since TPC’s inception in 2012, we have awarded over $1 million, including grants of $250,000 to 10 non-profits in May, 2018.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Yes, there have been some bumps in the road! The initial interest in TPC was overwhelming, and our growth in membership outstripped growth in our infrastructure, the policies, procedures and systems needed to support programming and the grants review process. As a result, the Board voted to cap membership at 250 while we built out that infrastructure.

Now, we are a more structured organization that offers extensive educational opportunities like our Philanthropy Dialogues, at which grantees provide in-depth discussion about pressing needs like food insecurity, youth in foster care, and immigrant rights. We also offer Volunteer Days in which members provide direct service to grantees, and encourage members to offer their skills to non-profits seeking them. As a result, members now serve on our grantees’ Boards, provide pro bono expertise in strategic planning, PR, development and the like, and make additional donations.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about The Philanthropy Connection – what should we know?
TPC has the largest cohort of “next gen” philanthropists of any of the 100+ collective giving groups in the country. We are proud that we have led the charge in educating this future generation of women leaders. Additionally, TPC offers a Fellows program in which young women not currently able to afford our dues applies for a pro bono membership in a competitive application process. Dues for Fellows are underwritten by other generous members.

Our focus on connecting our grantees and our members has been hugely impactful. Last year, 100 women either volunteered with or made an additional donation to a non-profit we funded – that’s a lot of brainpower and support for our local non-profits!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
TPC aims to make philanthropy accessible to as many women of as many ages as possible, and seeks members who believe in the power of collective giving – that by pooling our donations, we can make a more significant impact than an individual can alone.

We are largely volunteer-run with only a part-time administrator, and have members who participate in helping run the organization as well as members who participate only by paying dues; they know that all organizations proposed for funding have been exhaustively researched by TPC’s grant review teams. We are a “no guilt” group in which a member herself decides her level of participation!

Pricing:

  • Annual dues for women over 35 years old are $1100, of which $1000 goes into the grant pool and $100 helps defray operational and programming expenses
  • Annual dues for women 35 years and younger are $550, of which $500 goes into the grant pool and $50 helps defray operational and programming expenses

Contact Info:



Image Credit:
Personal photo: Susan Benford (center, red dress). On right is TPC co-founder, Marla Felcher; on left is a guest at our Grants Award announcement

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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