Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Insider: Aimée A. Cole-Laramore Improving Philanthropy to Improve the World

An illuminating Insider interview with Aimée A. Cole-Laramore, Associate Director, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Through her work at Lake Institute, Cole-Laramore explores how faith influences philanthropic giving.  Lake Institute provides a public forum for examination of the connections between individual philanthropy and faith and its staff lead studies and convenes initiatives to bring deeper understanding of how faith both inspires and informs giving.

Hometown: Toledo, Northwest Ohio

Education: College of Technology, Purdue University; MBA, University of Toledo

Previous Positions: Owner/Lead Consultant, ALlyd Image Solutions; Director of Development, Lighthouse of Oakland County; Director, Northwest Ohio Hemophilia Foundation. Community Organizer and Quality Control specialist by training

Philanthropic Involvement: New Horizons Church; Jack and Jill Inc. – Circle City Chapter; Purdue College of Technology Alumni Board; supporter of Horizon House, STEM Education Initiatives, In-Home Aging Solutions and Breast Cancer Awareness. The most important aspect of Aimée’s personal philanthropy is raising three children (Lydia, 13, Noah, 11, and Andrew, 9) who understand at their core what her grandmother taught: To whom much is given, much is required.

Tell us more about the Lake Institute and Lilly School of Philanthropy.

The dynamic, international environment in which philanthropic organizations exist is becoming increasingly complex.  More than ever before, successful philanthropy now requires greater knowledge and more sophisticated education, research and training for the sector.  Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research and international programs and through the public offerings of The Fund Raising School, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. Together, we collaborate to improve philanthropy to improve the world by offering undergraduate, masters and PhD training for the best and brightest minds in the world, coupled with career training, skill development and continuing education in a variety of areas.   Specifically, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving explores how faith inspires and informs philanthropy and religious giving. We offer practical training that bridges research to advance the necessary skills and experiences that improve faith-based fundraising and explore the hard work of creating congregational cultures of generosity.

Why were you drawn to Lake Institute and its mission?

The constant theme for my career has been capacity building and quality control.   For a long time I ran from the opportunity to partner my natural skills and experience base with faith-based institutions, non-profits and churches. Ultimately, my decision to join Lake Institute was based on my belief that God had something different for me to learn and to do, coupled with Lake’s entrepreneurial design.  I wanted to explore the research of faith-based giving and I wanted to be a part of what was happening to teach, train and develop faith leaders around the best development practices.  The ability to align my interests and my skills, and discernment that I would fit within the team that existed led to the match.

What aspect of faith and giving might surprise our readers?

Religious giving is still the largest sub-sector of all charitable giving.  In recent years about 32 percent of all dollars donated have gone to religious organizations each year. I think it is important for readers to understand the role of religious giving, and specifically Black church giving, in the overall spectrum of all giving.   I also find it intriguing that faith-based donors are incredibly generous in life, not just as it relates to their religious affiliation.   The research studies indicate that the values and faith foundation of those donors causes them to be more generous in their volunteerism, gifts to secular organizations, gifts of time, etc.

Given the historical and cultural significance of Black congregations and our places of worship as vehicles for philanthropy, are there distinctive ways in which Lake Institute engages people of faith from Black communities?

Great question! Lake Institute has engaged people of faith from Black communities since our inception ten years ago.  In the early years it was really based on the tremendous relationships and partnerships of our Director, Dr. Bill Enright.   Today, we are proactive in connecting relevant research, providing the experience of completing the personal philanthropic autobiography and working with congregational teams to create cultural change by building strategic partnerships within the Black community.   This work isn’t easy. We believe there is more work to be done to diversify our strategic partnerships, but we have been intentional about building bridges and creating new program models that resonate with our many audiences.

I’m passionate about Black philanthropy and faith-based philanthropy, and I work in an environment where that passion has been honored.   This year we have partnered with Friends of Ebonie, Head & Heart Philanthropy and an exciting new partnership with Shaw University.   In 2014 we will offer the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising with Shaw University, in addition to hosting Valaida Fullwood as our 2014 Lake Distinguished Visitor.   The future is bright in the world of faith and philanthropy.   There are many phenomenal congregations and faith-based non-profits that are setting new standards of excellence in casting vision, elevating transparency and accountability, recognizing the role of leadership in establishing cultures of generosity and more.   Lake Institute recognizes the role and the importance of this philanthropy and offers new opportunities to elevate this specialized area of philanthropy.

Now, here are some questions in observance of Black Philanthropy Month 2013. Black philanthropy is . . . ?

Black philanthropy is an opportunity to build on the work of my ancestors while leaving a legacy for my children and all children.   During this season of life I’ve been particularly struck by the notion of doing well while doing good.  I’ve always considered Black philanthropy doing good and I am evolving to understand that we must do well and do good.

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Aimée A. Cole-Laramore and family

When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?

My dream is that the Black community will recognize both its power and philanthropy. When I think about both our buying and giving power I believe there is an opportunity to be more intentional about creating significant impact that matches our true values and goals.  I dream of a community where children are highly educated, talent is recognized in all fields and sectors, the Black family is whole and preserved, the Black church is respected as a community anchor and where all things are possible—because we work to make them a success.  I dream about a society where my children are supported and recognized for their brilliance, as the rule not the exception.

In terms of your philanthropic endeavors, what’s your “mountaintop” or highest achievement to date?

I had the opportunity to be a part of the leadership team at New Horizons Church, a church plant in Indianapolis.   We purchased our building debt free and made all improvements to the building debt free under the leadership of Pastor Eric L. Wiggins. From a personal and professional alignment, I am excited about the example that was set for the entire congregation.   I was a part of the stewardship leadership team and my family contributes our time, talent and treasure to that ministry.  I love being part of the pursuit of excellence.

Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy.

My faith and values are shaped from The Bible.   I read a lot of good books, but nothing has poured into my life as much as the Bible itself.   My personal philanthropy is shaped by my personal values and a lifelong faith walk.  In my spare time I’ve been known to re-read Failing Forward by John C. Maxwell (2000), too.

Contributed by Valaida Fullwood

Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is a founding member of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists and author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” For more, follow, @ValaidaF and @BlkGivesBackCLT.

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