Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 20, 2013

Lessons from 10 years of working with humanitarian aid agencies

Jessica Alexander at a book reading at Quail Ridge
Books in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Brenda Summers
“Humanitarian aid is about helping people rebuild their lives,” Jessica Alexander states in reflecting on her 10 years of working with agencies in Rwanda, Darfur, Sierra Leone, Haiti and other countries.
Alexander is now traveling the United States discussing her work and promoting her book, Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid.  During a book reading at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina, she said that, after 10 years, she felt it was time to reflect on her experiences going back and forth between emergency areas. 

The author started her journey with an internship in Rwanda during graduate school. After completing her master’s degree, she worked with agencies in Darfur, managing a 24,000-camp of internally displaced people. After completing her research for a Fulbright Grant on child soldiers in Sierra Leone, she was able to provide evidence which was used in the prosecution and conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes. Alexander was also a relief worker in Sri Lanka and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami and later in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Jessica Alexander signs books at
Quail Ridge Books in
Raleigh, North Carolina.
Alexander notes that countries around the world have many silent emergencies right now, but they don’t receive media attention that draws needed support from donors. In these contexts, there may be as many people in need, but with limited resources, agencies struggle to prove relief.  

She wants people to learn several lessons from the book and her experiences, including how best to help after an emergency. She also wants to change some misconceptions about humanitarian aid and to provide insights into the people impacted by disasters who are not looking for handouts but are working with resilience and strength to rebuild their lives after a disaster. 

While Alexander finds the work rewarding, she admits that it can be very difficult and after a while can lead to burnout.  Today, she continues to make short trips to emergency areas, but most of her work now is with humanitarian agencies headquartered in New York. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Columbia, New York and Fordham universities. She is working on her Ph.D. at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, focusing her research on accountability in humanitarian aid.

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Seeking support helped new foundation focus on namesake’s mission

Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, Dallas philanthropist

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Roberta Shapiro

Mistakes and mess-ups are a part of life. Sometimes they are small. Sometimes they are big. We are human. We cannot avoid every mistake, but we all have certain responsibilities in our lives that we try extremely hard not to mess up.

In the 1980s, I met and started working for Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, an under-the-radar Dallas philanthropist. I helped her with her business affairs. During the 20 years I was with her, I became intimately involved with all aspects of her life. A major element of this was the charitable support she offered organizations in the Dallas area. She enthusiastically supported the East Dallas Community School, Dallas Children’s Theater and Habitat for Humanity, among others. She has many endowments in North Texas, one of which is at her alma mater, Texas Women’s University.  

In 2009, at the age of 93, Mrs. Woolf passed away, and The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation was born. Over the years, Mrs. Woolf and I talked about her wishes for her giving to continue after her death. The foundation was the best avenue for that. It made the most sense for me to be the president of that foundation. The course was set.

Last year, The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation was funded. Like many of the more than 38,000 grant-making family foundations in the U.S., we are operating with no staff and learning as we go the complexities inherent to the operation of private foundations.

Early on, I discovered that creating and operating the foundation was not going to be like the old days. My time was spent on the huge and complicated process of filing for 501(c)(3) status, meeting all filing requirements with the state, selling real estate, hiring money managers, filing foundation tax returns, writing minutes, making agendas and running meetings.

Mrs. Orien Levy Woolf, Dallas philanthropist
Gone were the long chats with Mrs. Woolf about giving, needs and helping. No more would I hear her words that to this day guide me, “Well, they need it, and I can do it.” Her head would shake in disbelief as she would complain that there were many people who could give and didn’t. Nope, I was in a different world now.

This was the part that made me want to run. The fact that I want so very much to do it right, for her, makes me stay.

The hardest part of running a foundation is you don’t know what you don’t know. This is where the Conference of Southwest Foundations (CSF) pulled me out of my haze and fear. I submitted our application and was so pleased to immediately receive an email from the executive director welcoming me and offering any help I needed.

In the months that have followed, the support and opportunities for learning (more about what you don’t know you don’t know!) have been numerous. CSF has a wonderful website where as a member you can research questions. There are free webinars covering various topics. They have a library and documents in their office for member use. This fall, I will attend my first conference.

Most states have foundation organizations that provide similar resources to members. For me, it was important to have the opportunity to talk to people who have walked your walk in your shoes ahead of you. And they are willing to help you.

Recently, I contacted CSF and explained that I was looking for a sample of a letter I had to write. They sent me contact information for four foundations that use this kind of letter. I was able to get what I needed and come in contact with presidents with more experience than I have. I know that if I send an email or pick up a phone, CSF is there to help.

Mrs. Woolf was a dear friend who made a powerful impact on her community, and I want her legacy to live on. But operating in a vacuum leads to self-doubt and lots of unanswered questions and guesswork. Taking advantage of my CSF membership and resources helps me to feel less likely to “mess up.”

Roberta Shapiro is the president of the The Orien Levy Woolf & Dr. Jack Woolf Charitable Foundation of Dallas, Texas.

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November 18, 2013

Get started in planned giving

Lyne and Kathryn Gamble

Special to Philanthropy Journal 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Philanthropy Journal will present Jan Doolin’s workshop, “How to Launch and Sustain a Successful Planning Giving Program from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 on the NC State University campus in Raleigh. For details and registration information, click here. 

We find some of the reasons that nonprofit organizations frequently give for not engaging in planned giving are:
  • •     We need to focus on annual gifts to make our operating budget.
  • •     We are in a campaign for a new building.
  • •     I don’t know anything about planned gifts.
The problem is when you are not engaged in planned giving, you have effectively limited your donors’ giving potential. What??? Now that we have your attention, let us repeat this important point.

When your organization is not engaged in planned giving, you have effectively limited your donors’ giving potential.

The reason for this is simple — people who are philanthropic give throughout their lives and will most often consider gifts when making their estate plans. Most of the planned gifts we have raised through the years come from people who have given consistently over time  — usually through annual giving. This means their largest gift may come through their estate. So how can you get started? We recommend two simple steps to begin.

First, start telling your donors that your organization is interested in being the beneficiary of planned gifts. Consider the following simple strategies:
  • •     Include some simple language on the gift form with your next annual appeal. You could offer two options for donors to select: “I/We have included Organization’s name in our will. I//We would like to know more about including Organization’s name in our will. You will get some responses!
  • •     Call the people who respond. Also, consider contacting some of your most loyal and consistent donors, and make an appointment to meet with them and ask if they have considered including your organization in their estate plan. Then just listen. You will learn a great deal about them — their values, family, other charities they support — and you might just get a commitment!
Second, educate yourself about planned giving. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to know some basics. From experience, we can tell you that most, if not all, estate gifts you will deal with will be bequests. This means that you can get started without being an expert on the alphabet soup of planned gift instruments (CRUT, CRAT, NIMCRUT, CGA, etc.). However, you will feel more confident if you know something about the technical side of planned giving. Plan to attend a few seminars or workshops.

Take these two simple steps, and get started realizing the full potential of your donors’ philanthropy.

Gamble Squared, LLC is a fundraising consulting firm with a specialty in planned giving. For more information, please contact us at or 919-923-0983.

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