Posted by: danielrashke | June 26, 2018

Growing, Learning & Thriving Together

Recently, my wife Patti and I and members of the TASC team attended a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Madison Community Foundation. For those of you who might not be familiar, the MCF is a philanthropic organization that supports the local community by creating and sustaining endowment funds, many of which go to initiatives outside of the human services needs addressed by organizations like the United Way.


To mark this important year, MCF awarded twelve major gifts—one for every month—totaling $2 million. As MCF President Bob Sorge pointed out, equity and accessibility were key criteria. The gifts ran the gamut from just under $100,00 to support Madison’s vibrant biking culture, to $1.1 million for a program called “Together We Thrive,” a challenge grant to Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and their Community Schools Initiative, which helps meet the changing needs of children and families by bringing community services into schools.

One of our main reasons for attending the event was to help support our friend and fellow community philanthropist Diane Ballweg, who serves as the MCF chairperson. Diane has a long history of philanthropic giving and of community involvement, including a stint as chair of the Madison Children’s Museum. In her talk at the anniversary celebration, she pointed up some important facts about the challenges faced by organizations in the charitable space. Maybe the most daunting challenge is demographic: people born prior to 1965 account for 70% of all charitable giving. Clearly, that’s a trend that needs to be turned around if we want charitable giving to succeed in the future—particularly when there is an increasing number of nonprofits (4,200 in Dane County alone) that need support to stay viable and vital.

The key to sustaining charitable giving in the future is not all that different from the key to sustaining a successful business: you have to innovate to meet new needs and challenges.  When it comes to philanthropy there are two parts to the innovation equation. The first involves finding new ways to bring good things to the community and to those in need. The second involves finding new ways to get people involved in charitable giving.

As someone who believes deeply in philanthropy and innovation, I am always on the lookout for fresh ideas. In fact, that’s another reason why I was interested in attending the MCF 75th anniversary and learning more about their work. The Madison Community Foundation has done nice job carving out a niche separate from—but complementary to—the United Way (they overlap on only 7% of their grants). They also scale grants in such a way as to keep control at the local level, where people best understand the needs. They are thought leaders—innovative, creative, and contemporary. Which means, for example, that they use data extensively. They’re smart about how they spend their money but also willing to fund new initiatives outside the traditional sphere of charitable giving. For example, prior to giving the $1.1 million to the Community Schools Initiative, they funded a research grant to test the viability of that program, which had its skeptics. The early successes of the program suggest that unconventional thinking and calculated risk are paying off.

Fresh thinking and calculated risk in philanthropy are ideas we embrace at the Dan and Patti Rashke (TASC) Family Foundation, where we strive to be a catalyst for community growth, helping our disadvantaged neighbors achieve their full potential. We strategically invest in innovative and collaborative solutions in the areas of education, health, and human services. Innovation, strategy, and collaboration are all integral to our efforts, just as they are for MCF.

Like Diane and our friends at MCF, I’m concerned about the aging demographics of charitable giving. But here, too, innovation can bring solutions. In fact, right now my team and I are working on a proposal we think will help attract younger and less affluent givers to charitable giving. More about that soon.

The need for successful philanthropy is great. Today, right here in Madison, Wisconsin, the average age of a homeless person is nine years old. That’s a startling and heartbreaking statistic that ought to motivate us to think in new ways about how charitable giving can create meaningful change. I think we also need to remind people that charitable giving is a gift in itself. In her presentation, Diane talked about a formula for “enduring success” that she came across in the Harvard Business Review. According to that formula, a truly satisfying and lasting feeling of success comes from a combination of achievement, significance, legacy, and happiness. I agree with Diane that philanthropy meets all those criteria. It provides both an opportunity to help others, and a way to find fulfillment in our own lives by working together in a common cause. As MCF says, “Together We Thrive.”


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