While the projects may fall within the framework formulated by the Rockefellers and Carnegies, they build on innovation that is key to being effective and successful, explained Lin Arison.
“You start as a founder, but to go anywhere you need to get new ideas,” she said. “Frank Gehry and Michael came out with something world-changing. Classical music was going downhill. People were giving up on it and now it’s so turned on and so exciting and it’s going to keep spreading and spreading. And then for (Young Arts Executive Director Paul T. Lehr) to come in and have such vision and such talent and be able to make such a difference in Young Arts. It’s osmosis.”
“The main thing,” she continued, “is you don’t do it alone. Everybody has something to contribute. Everything changes all the time. You have to be open to listening and going, wow, that’s a great idea. Like, we need a building? And then, oh, wait a minute. That makes sense.”
For granddaughter Sarah, who became head of the Arison Arts Foundation in 2005 when she was still in college, it was important to draft a personal mission to stay focused.
“There’s a million organizations because of social media. And with the Internet, they’re all able to have a presence and it can be completely overwhelming,” she said.
Defining a mission can also give you the freedom to think differently about how to deliver it. Last November while attending a movie premiere with a friend, Sarah Arison met an English director working on a project about a young dancer arrested in Iran, where dancing is outlawed. After chatting, she offered to get copies of the script to Mikhail Baryshnikov and Robert Redford, both masters in the Young Arts program. She’s now co-producing the movie, set to premier at the Cannes Film Festival next year.
Obviously, deep pockets can open a lot of doors in the philanthropic world. But there are plenty of ways for the less wealthy to make an impact. Community foundations offer a chance for smaller donors to work within a network of philanthropists and, by joining forces, make bigger grants.
Donors can even create legacy funds to donate assets from their estate after they die, said Thor Barraclough, chief communications officer for the Community Foundation of Broward. Creating the fund beforehand, he explained, lets donors be involved in philanthropy while they’re still alive.
“There are so many folks out there who don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “They don’t have resources, but they have a nonprofit or cause they’re passionate about.”
All these different ways of giving have spurred a new cottage industry in the nonprofit world: assessing performance.
“One thing that is clear, this is a generation of entrepreneurs and they’re looking for a return on their investment,” said Nancy Jones, vice president of Public Affairs and Communication for The Miami Foundation.
Most charitable giving — about three-quarters of the $298 billion donated in 2011 — came from individual donors. While large foundations typically do in-house performance reviews, individual donors often don’t have the tools or time to adequately assess a charity. Organizations like Charity Navigator and GuideStar rank effectiveness based on tax filings, but lack details about the programs or their methods. The overly simple evaluations, some critics say, don’t always accurately reflect a nonprofit’s track record.