By Blake Stafford, Contributor
I was buzzed into the giant, prison-like building that is the United Way of Greenville County, and after ten minutes of waiting, Valida Foster, a short and heavyset African-American woman who exudes enthusiasm, appeared. From listening to Foster for a few short minutes, it was obvious that she is the definition of someone who should be in public relations. Other than her contagious energy, she really knows how to sell the organization she works for.
Foster manages the Young Philanthropists, one of the United Way of Greenville County’s giving societies. To the average person, the term sounds like an organization that gives back directly. But in fact, a giving society is an organization within a nonprofit organization. A group of people donates a certain amount of money (usually, a large amount) and achieves a certain giving status. With that giving status comes benefits, including invitations to networking events and participation in philanthropic activities. The Young Philanthropists giving society has two parts. The first is for professionals ages thirty and older who donate at least $1,000 per year. The second, YP20s, is for professionals under thirty who donate at least $500 per year. This group was created to appeal to the interests of the younger generation.
The members of these giving societies are not nonprofit employees or teachers who give to other nonprofits. The 940 combined members of Young Philanthropists and YP20s have jobs in high-paying fields such as banks, law firms and real estate companies. David Sigmon, the chair of Young Philanthropists, works for Coldwell Banker, one of the largest real estate companies in the country. Sigmon and other members convince their CEOs to give to the United Way of Greenville County’s annual Community Campaign. As Rebecca Reed Faulk, a member of Young Philanthropists, mentioned, these young professionals use the United Way to sell their businesses.
Faulk said that Young Philanthropists really should be called Young Professionals. She got involved because of the networking opportunities membership provides.
“The United Way of Greenville County and their affinity organizations are a great way to meet other professionals and extend your network, especially for those that grew up in the organization,” Faulk said. “The diversity of membership in the organization, the energy behind the mission and the support of the staff is a huge success for those involved.”
Members of the giving society hold networking events throughout the year, including the Young Philanthropists Summer Celebration which also acts as a recruiting event for potential givers.
Young Philanthropists participate in many United Way philanthropy events throughout the year outside of the Community Campaign, its major fundraising event. These philanthropic events include Be a Book Bunny, Born Learning Trail and Little Free Libraries, all of which promote the School Readiness area of the United Way’s “Cycle of Success,” the organization’s foundation for its work. This area is the one in which the group mainly focuses on. All of the members that were interviewed for this article said that it was the one they cared about the most due to its goal of preparing young children to be successful in school.
Young Philanthropists do good. They volunteer and help to make changes in the community. The United Way gives members of its giving societies the opportunity to get involved in the community with others who have similar interests.
“I have had the opportunity to make countless friends and contacts through the United Way that share the same values as I do,” Sigmon said. “Through my roles at the United Way, I’m put in a position to consistently rub elbows with these business leaders.”