Diane Lebson is the author of the new book For a Good Cause: A Practical Guide to Giving Joyfully. She is the cofounder of Evergreen Philanthropic Solutions, a consultancy working with nonprofit organizations.
Q: What inspired you to write For a Good Cause?
A: I wrote For A Good Cause: A Practical Guide to Giving Joyfully because I wanted to help women become effective change agents.
One thing I have learned so far in my career is that women do their research and want to do things right. Before embarking upon any major endeavor, they scour the Internet, talk with their friends who might have worked on similar projects, develop step-by-step action plans.
While this level of thoroughness positions female philanthropists to do their work well, it also obstructs them from hitting the ground running – which is a significant challenge if their work is urgent (e.g., helping Afghan women flee the Taliban within a short period of time).
Q: How did your own experiences in philanthropy help shape the book?
A: For nearly three decades, I devoted my career to the nonprofit sector—as a volunteer, staff member, executive, and board member.
In getting to know the volunteers and donors who supported the causes for which I worked, our conversations would invariably turn to the mechanics of “doing” philanthropy.
How will I know if I am investing my time and money where it will have the greatest impact? How do I raise money for my cause when I hate asking my friends for anything, especially money!? What does it mean to serve on a nonprofit board – what do they expect of me?
Female philanthropists have been asking these questions for years – but not finding the answers.
Q: What impact do you think the pandemic has had on people's desire to give to others?
A: According to Giving USA, an annual study of philanthropic giving by Americans, charitable giving reached an all-time high of $471 billion in 2020. They found that, in addition to dealing with the pandemic, people were also motivated to respond to racial injustice. This is a 5.1 percent increase over, which is pretty remarkable given the dynamic economic conditions many Americans faced – and are continuing to endure.
As a former Red Crosser, I have seen firsthand how generously people will respond to disasters and tragedy. There’s something about the human condition that, regardless of how challenging things are in our own lives, compels us to support others during their time of need.
Look at the hundreds of people who are current or former government, military, development, and journalism professionals who took it upon themselves to help people get out of Afghanistan. Look at what happens when we have a hurricane or super storm. That is part of American culture.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: After reading For A Good Cause: A Practical Guide to Giving Joyfully, I hope readers will approach their philanthropy with the same intentionality they do their finances. Our time, talent, and treasure are all assets – when we think strategically about how we deploy those assets, we maximize our ability to create positive change.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My main priority right now is to get For A Good Cause into as many hands as possible – I want to invest in change agents.
Last October, I participated in a webinar hosted by Jessica Bennett, editor-at-large of The New York Times and author of Feminist Fight Club. She featured four Black teenage girls who organized racial justice protests. These remarkable change agents said:
“I have never been involved in activism before.”
“I never thought of myself as a leader.”
“I felt helpless and just wanted to do something.”
“I’m too busy carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
I wrote For A Good Cause with these change agents like these in mind and want to do all I can to support them.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: How we invest in nonprofit leaders – people who will eventually join nonprofits boards – has a direct correlation to how effective these nonprofits are. If you want to make positive change in your community or world, start with education. This book is about educating change agents.
Empowering nonprofits and people who want to create positive change is my vocation. To find out more about how I do that on a daily basis, please visit www.evergreenphilanthropy.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb