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Local Millennials change the face of philanthropy

Capital Cause members at a Game Night for charity at Cause Philanthropub in Shaw

Game Night and other targeted events helped Capital Cause members raise more than $2,000 for a reading program for a D.C. charter school

Kezia Williams, Capital Cause co-founder, being interviewed at a early 2013 Capital Cause event

After volunteering during President Obama’s first election bid, five young women were inspired by the campaign’s ability to turn small donations from millions of individuals into mighty campaign coffers.
They decided that they, too, could mobilize small donors for big returns, in a way that has changed the face of philanthropy in the District.  
“Our organization’s goal is totally focused on redefining philanthropy, specifically as it relates to being wealthy and well established,” says Kezia Williams, board chair of Capital Cause, a D.C. nonprofit Williams co-founded in 2009. “We are proving that’s a fallacy and you can start giving at any age and still have the ability to make a difference.”
Capital Cause members are local Millennials, aged 18 to 35 years—most of whom are entry-level professionals who make less than $60,000 a year. Each member donates just $30 per year, which has funded over $20,000 in mini-grants to local organizations. Each member also commits time to a “cause” by pledging at least five service hours to local community projects.
While the organization has been impressive in raising the capital aligned with its mission, a 2011 survey revealed that this young group of givers felt that they could do more.
"Small groups of people really can come together to make a difference and it shows the power of collective giving, not just with money but with time."
Up until that point, Capital Cause would draw 40-50 members out for quarterly, one-day service projects, such as beautification days for elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods.
“We thought that we were really meeting the mission because young people have busy lives—or so we assumed—and they probably wouldn’t want to spend more than three hours serving, so we thought we were doing a pretty efficient job,” says Williams. “But what the survey said was that they wanted to do more and they wanted to serve more.”
Specifically, members stated that they wanted to see greater value in their service by utilizing more of their skills on projects that lasted beyond one day.
Based on this call for change, Capital Cause launched its Giving Circles Projects initiative in 2012.
“Giving circles projects are short-term, high impact service projects that involve our members in either crowd-funding a grant, or crowdsourcing their skills to come up with solutions to a community issue,” says Williams.
In 2011, Capital Cause rallied a little more than 180 volunteers for 250 hours of service. In 2012, through the Giving Circles Projects, the organization got 20 members to volunteer over 550 hours on projects like “Loads of Love Community Laundry Day,” where five members organized and fundraised to benefit thirty-six Ward 8 families whose children received free or reduced lunch and struggled to pay laundry expenses.
In this year’s round of Giving Circles Projects, Capital Cause members served organizations like Potomac Lighthouse Public Charter school (PLPCS), which had been in search of a way to fund more effective literary tools for their students.
“At PLPCS, we believe that the achievement gap is actually attributable to lack of access to opportunity,” says Rebecca Cranston, PLPCS board member. “If we can give our kids access to early and targeted intervention, it will set the stage for a lifetime of achievement.”
Cranston entrusted this literary opportunity to five Capital Cause members who were tasked with raising $2,000 for curriculum and laptop computers associated with “Reading A-Z,” an online blended learning program.
Anthony Harbour, who took the lead on team “Spread the Light,” worked tirelessly to solicit funds from friends, family and coworkers; host events throughout the city; and market the campaign through online media. 
“I chose to work with the Potomac Lighthouse Charter School because I have long believed that education is the key to everything in life,” says Harbour. “I am a huge beneficiary of social programs—many people took the time to invest in me as a youth—I, in turn, want to return the favor.”
Whether Capital Cause members are providing support through personal donations, fundraising or skill-based acts of service, they are proving that Millennials can defy stereotypes and impact communities.
"You can start giving at any age and still have the ability to make a difference."
Just meeting its 60-day deadline, Team “Spread Literacy, Spread Light” was able to surpass its campaign goal, opening the door to effective literary programming initiatives for PLPCS students, who will receive their “Reading A-Z” curriculum this fall.
“It shows that small groups of people really can come together to make a difference and it shows the power of collective giving, not just with money but with time,” says Williams. 
Moreover, the organization continues to nurture the growth of its members in all realms of life.
“Capital Cause has not only educated me on what it means to be an effective young philanthropist," says Harbour, "but also taught me how to embody this philosophy in all that I do as a young professional."

Read more articles by Christina Sturdivant.

Christina Sturdivant is a native Washingtonian who's always watching and writing about the latest cultural, community and innovative trends in the city. She's interested in people and companies that create equitable opportunities for longtime residents and transplants alike.
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