The saying “If you build it, they will come” certainly proved true in Ojai last week as the Ojai Women’s Fund 2017 Kickoff Event drew well over a hundred women to the Ojai Women’s Club on February 28th to hear celebrated Ojai resident Esther Wachtell talk about her passion for and longtime relationship with philanthropy. Wachtell is the founder and retired president of The Wachtell Group, a fundraising consulting company; and founding chair of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California.
Esther Wachtell was delighted when the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) launched last year and is highly supportive of its local philanthropic efforts. As a seasoned philanthropist and ground floor OWF member, she graciously agreed to share her wealth of experience, motivation, and insight into historical, cultural, economic and psychological traditions and benefits of philanthropy. According to Wachtell, “Philanthropy represents a fundamental tradition unique to American culture. Nowhere else in the world is the concept of philanthropy so deeply embedded in the national ethos. Our tradition harkens back to our pioneer roots … it was the means of survival, the path to success.”
From an economic standpoint, Wachtell explained how philanthropy brings an important marketplace test to charitable services: “It’s the way people can show how much they value services being performed … and provide the power of the marketplace to winnow out needed services.” She likened philanthropy as the “third leg of the tripod that supports America’s economy,” after government and business. “Together, these three methods of economic activity form the foundation of our system. Many billions (of dollars) are spent into our economy through philanthropy. Jobs are created. Problems are solved. Diseases are cured. Sculptures are created. Music is performed. Schools teach our children and research centers drive us into the future. All of these activities are fostered best by philanthropy and, as we analyze each of these areas, we realize that they can only really survive well through philanthropy. They rely upon individual creativity. They flourish when there is more freedom of expression. The structure of philanthropy unleashes human creativity in ways that government and corporations cannot do.”
The psychological benefit of giving is obvious: it makes us feel good. But beyond the bliss bubble is a very tangible uplifting of self and community that feeds empathy, fosters compassion and understanding, and nurtures dignity and respect. “We see that it makes a difference. Our spirits are enriched every time by the simple act of giving,” says Wachtell.
The next step in philanthropic evolution is already underway, according to Wachtell. Academic studies and experimental projects linking philanthropy with public policy and corporate participation are showing very promising results. In a public-private-philanthropic partnership, foundations provide the infrastructure and leadership to bring government and business together – creating a diverse collective to decide who can do what best to solve problems together. This sort of partnership will, as Esther Wachtell describes, “join all three legs of society’s tripod to solve community problems. “
Locally, the Ojai Women’s Fund has done extensive research in an effort to best understand its community and community needs. Last year, the OWF awarded $60K in grants to local nonprofits serving arts, education, environment, health and social services needs in Ojai. This year, the OWF aims to do even more. If the enthusiastic turnout for Esther Wachtell’s talk at OWF’s 2017 Kickoff Event last week is any indication of Ojai’s passion to care for its community – it shall be a successful and rewarding year ahead for Ojai, indeed.
The OWF is currently seeking applicants for 2017 grants in categories of Art, Education, Environment, Health and Social Services. Application period ends April 12. Grant applications and information are available by clicking here.