Friday, March 21, 2008

Philanthropy Profile: Michelynn 'Miki' Woodard

Last August, BlackGivesBack featured its first philanthropy profile on Michelynn ‘Miki’ Woodard, Vice Chair of the Kanye West Foundation, and President and Chief Operating Officer of West Brands. The purpose of the philanthropy profile is to highlight African Americans working in the field of philanthropy and it is hoped that by sharing their insights and wisdom, readers will have a better understanding about the field, its significance to African Americans and provide guidance to those working with our youth.

Miki has extensive experience in the field of philanthropy, particularly working with celebrities and their charitable giving. It was this experience that led hip hop superstar Kanye West and the late Dr. Donda West to appoint Miki as Vice Chair of the Kanye West Foundation. In part two of our conversation with Miki, she shares about the current activities of the foundation, gives advice for organizations seeking celebrity endorsement and provides suggestions for those interested in philanthropy as a career.

Tracey: In your current position at West Brands,what are your responsibilities as its President and Chief Operating Officer? 

Miki:  I run different business entities for Kanye, so that’s everything from our online website and technology development to any franchising that we might do, to real estate investments – it pretty much varies from day to day. So its any activity that is connected to Kanye offstage.

I was very saddened to hear of Dr. West’s passing. I know she was a driving force in the establishment of the Kanye West Foundation. In keeping true to her vision and passion of combating the nation’s severe drop out crisis, can you share with our readers the current direction of the foundation and future plans?

Absolutely! The foundation was her [Dr. West’s] vision and she wanted to focus on how Kanye would be able to give back to the world – we miss her dearly, but we are more dedicated than ever to the mission of the foundation.

We now have our first program up and running here in Los Angeles. The Loop Dreams program is in south central Los Angeles at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club. There are two different charter schools on this campus, so it’s perfect for us – because those are the kids that are able to cycle in and out of our program. We have a teacher and an academic tutor on site, and kids get tutoring, homework help and after school help. They also have to maintain a certain grade point average.

They get to learn about writing music – we have a studio that we built in the bottom of the Boys and Girls Club, so all of that is going on right now. We’re really happy with the students that we’re able to serve. We are looking at 2009 to do our next big fundraiser. We’re not sure yet in what form or in what city, and we’re probably going to hire staff to have someone focused on the foundation on a daily basis.

Prior to West Brands, your previous position was Program Director at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) Foundation, where you consulted celebrities on their charitable giving efforts. For non profit organizations who are seeking celebrity endorsement for their cause or program, what advice do you have? What should they look for in selecting a celebrity?

At CAA, some of it was they [celebrities] wanted to start their own non-profit, some of it was unfortunately when their lives were touched by tragedy or a serious situation, and that would get them involved in a particular issue or topic. It was great because it was the whole spectrum – everything from giving them research, to putting together events, to connecting them with organizations, to working on screenings around different premiere events – it really ran the gamut. But it was all about how they could leverage their time and how to use their voice.

I think organizations should look for someone connected to the issue or have some sort of personal attachment, some depth and knowledge about the issue.

We got 20-30 requests a day for our most popular celebrities – just because they were popular – not because they were particularly vested in an issue. So you want to do some research and make sure that anyone you ask representing your organization is the right match and that’s how we would counsel people. What do you know about this particular person and what are you looking for in a spokesperson? Should it be someone local or regional instead of national? Is it somebody you need to come to events? Is someone needed to be on the board? Or just needed to lend their name? You really have to think through and be strategic – just because you have a big name on the front does not at all mean that your fundraising efforts are going to increase.

What suggestions do you have for those wishing to start a non-profit organization, or have already done so? How should they position themselves so they stay viable?

When I started my non profit, the most helpful thing was not taking it all on myself at once because I feel there’s so much to learn - and networking is critical. What helped me was using a fiduciary agent. We used a non profit where we were able to get them to take on the legal pieces, the accounting pieces, use their board members, and then we could focus on the mission. That really helped in the first year, then we were able to go out on our own more successfully. If you can do that and also get involved in networking groups, whether its ABFE (Association for Black Foundation Executives) or the Council on Foundations – all of these different funding groups were really helpful. In the end, getting the check is all about relationships.

What advice do you have for those wishing to pursue a career in philanthropy?

Decide what does that mean – is it in non profit? Or do you want to be in corporate giving? Community relations? There’s so many different forms it can take. I’d say start with that kind of research – looking at sites such as Charity Navigator and Guidestar and become familiar with how different organizations and companies are able to make a difference so you can really determine that this is the path I’m most interested in – whether its program director, executive director - there’s so many different types of positions that the beginning is really about the research.

Miki also shared some universities with related degree programs: University of Southern California’s Center for Philanthropy and Public Policy; NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service; North Park University Center for Non Profit Management in Chicago; and Baruch College, School of Public Affairs, New York.

Thank you Miki!

Miki’s favorite quote: Surviving is important, Thriving is elegant – Maya Angelou
Related Posts:
A Conversation with Michelynn 'Miki' Woodard
Hip Hop Superstar Kanye West Combats School Drop Out Rate Through Hip Hop Music


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Tracey said...

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Please folks, no spam! Thank you.

Patricia Elizabeth Arriaza said...

Great profile! I was especially happy to read about the continuing good work at the KW Foundation; am definitely interested in learning more about the program work being done in L.A.

Anonymous said...

Interesting advice about how to select a celebrity to endorse your non-profit or charity event. Just because a celebrity is popular doesn't mean he/she is an ideal fit for your organization's mission or purpose.