It’s something we were raised with. We have a responsibility to give back to the community.”
Giving charity is something that helps the needy, said Milgrom, but philanthropy goes beyond that. It transcends helping to put food on a table and moves towards areas such as arts and education, reaching out to places such as universities and hospitals.
Philanthropists can set up funds and foundations through the Federation, which has more than 800 donor-advised funds and more than 50 supporting foundations representing several thousand donors, where staff members can help them direct their philanthropy.
Pesses said that when she and her family were determining what kind of fund they wanted to establish, they turned to the Federation for guidance, support and advice.
“We do a lot of our philanthropy through our family foundation,” she said.
Much of their charity work focuses on education and scholarships, donating to schools such as Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland Institute of Art, as well as grants that will help people help themselves and become self-sufficient.
When donors come to the Federation for guidance, Milgrom said she first asks the following questions: “What is it that moves your heart? What is it that floats your boat?”
“We always start with asking, what are the things that motivate you in the world?” she said.
Pesses volunteered for various organizations, and said the next natural step was to support those organizations.
“I tend to support heavily the organizations I’ve been involved with, from Rainbow Babies (and Children’s Hospital) to the Alzheimer’s Association to, of course, the Federation and JFSA (Jewish Family Service Association),” said Pesses.
Once a member of the Federation finds out the donor’s interest in a specific area, they can often refer them to an organization, then help the donor evaluate the potential grantee’s program by looking at its mission statement and assessing the organization’s ability to carry out its objective. The Federation can also set up a site visit to make sure the prospective philanthropist is able to do as much research as possible before donating.
When making philanthropic decisions, it is important that these are educated decisions, said Milgrom. The organization must have the capacity to carry out its mission.
Pesses spent her first career in nonprofit management.
“That gave me really good insight on the grant-seeking side,” she said.
Pesses recommends that those wishing to get involved in philanthropy in the Jewish community speak with people at the Federation for guidance.
“Especially for people who didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that and see that modeled in their own family, it is sometimes an educational process,” she said.
Some philanthropists pair donating funds with hands-on involvement by volunteering or serving on the board of the organization to better understand its work.
There is no set amount of money that a philanthropist has to give, and one can still be a philanthropist without having a formal fund or foundation, said Milgrom.
“There really isn’t a range,” said Milgrom. “It’s what’s meaningful to you. You don’t have to be a multimillionaire.”
The minimum level to open a donor-advised fund at the Federation is $100.
“There are people with means who are not philanthropists – their own choice,” said Milgrom. “There are people with modest or more substantial means who see things in a different way and choose to be philanthropists. Part of what gives them pleasure in life is to make the world a more beautiful place.”
“For people that don’t have the financial resources, you can still give back in terms of your time and efforts,” said Pesses. “My biggest piece of advice is just to become involved in organizations or causes that you are passionate about. In most cases, that will lead to the desire to want to do more. You can be a philanthropist by giving $100. It doesn’t have to be huge dollars.”