The following is an interview with Michelle (MSM) Serrano-Mills & Linsey (LM) Mills, Foundation fundholders with NGAAP, conducted by Meg Buckingham (M), senior marketing & communications officer for the Foundation.

M: Michelle and Linsey, can you tell me a little more about NGAAP, and why you choose to do your philanthropy through collective means?

LM: Next Generation of African American Philanthropists is a vision of a core group of individuals that want to demystify organized philanthropy and share that with communities of color. We started with a question – if we shared information and tools with people about how they could give collectively, would they be interested in organizing their own giving amongst friends and affinity groups? The answer overwhelmingly has been yes. Since the beginning, we have brought in the “professionals” and joke that we have our master’s degrees in philanthropy.  Most people don’t realize that they are already a philanthropist! We think it’s important to teach people to be givers, and use the tools available to them at their level.

MSM: Time, Talent, Treasure and Testimony. Those are our four guides. The idea was always that if you are a donor, you lead with treasure, but that has to go beyond the monetary, if you want to have the most impact. Now we are seeing 10 years later that community foundations and institutional philanthropy are talking about this now – how do we go beyond someone writing a check, what are the other ways people can leverage their capital? Thinking more broadly about what capital do we individually bring to the giving circle table and then how do we leverage it to have the kind of impact we want to see?

M: Why collective giving for your community in particular?

 LM:  We need to start to associate ourselves with the word philanthropist, so that people don’t call it pocket book giving anymore. If you don’t, then no one ever knows about the good work you do. But then no one can piggyback off of your good work. That’s not what we are. That’s how a lot of it goes on in the African American community, you give because you feel good or bad about it – it’s about emotional ties, and that’s the spark or ignition for giving and that’s ok but what we’re trying to teach is to plan it out – strategic and planned for the long haul, rather than immediate or emergency giving.

MSM: In our communities, what we see is you do things and people may know you are helping out, but it’s not for you to advertise – because then you are seen as “bragging.” Now, we want people to know that NGAAP has given, not to lift up ourselves, but to lift up the issue or cause or the fact that they received support from someone who looked like them and can understand their experience. We’ve found this meant a lot to those we’ve funded. It is important to tell the story and move forward the message of planned strategic giving.

M:  How do you see your impact in the community?

MSM: NGAAP has given over the last ten years through the Foundation, close to $80,000 to the community – so from a financial impact we’ve done that.

LM: The tentacles of what we do from NGAAP and the Birmingham Change Fund stretch across the country. 20 giving circles like ours have been formed across the US – and we were the test group. There are 6 or 8 giving circles of color that are now part of the Foundation, in our region. We help organizations get to a place where they could partner with the Foundation and that strengthens our nonprofits. Our smaller grants help their capacity to prepare them for larger grants from other funders, and that’s so important.

M: What do you think collective giving can do as a tool for philanthropy?

LM: I think it is important to introduce people to the tools. Bring them in as partners and friends, we want this to be endowed, we want it to be something that lives on and is sustainable. There is a different way to give. A big part of it is learning how to be a philanthropist and how to sustain that giving. It exposes giving at this level to people who don’t have the resources to have a fund.

MSM: There’s a ripple effect for sure. It brings together entrepreneurs and nonprofit professionals. Each member individually is very involved as a philanthropist themselves, but what is the impact? Being involved as a giving circle makes us more of a philanthropist and better at thinking strategically – how we give and what we give. Incorporating philanthropy in everything – it happens organically. It spreads the understanding down the generational lines too.

M:  How do people become members of your giving circle?

LM: Come to one of our meetings and learn what we do and then they decide if it’s a good match. Our group has been together for 11 years, and can teach some valuable lessons. Or we’ll go talk to their affinity group and discuss starting their own circle. Our goal isn’t to grow our circle, it is to expand collective philanthropy, but we welcome those who are interested in our mission statement, and have questions.

MSM: Our newest member, Tobi Shannon has been listening and learning for years, and now as she graduates from college she is following in her parents footsteps of being a philanthropist. Members span generations. Now she’s come up through the ranks and will be able to keep spreading that message with different perspective. It’s exciting to watch and be a part of this different way of giving.