FLiP meets Lindsay Siegel

Lindsay Siegel is a founding member of the New York City and New Haven chapters of Dining for Women, a national organization that raises over $400,000 a year for grassroots nonprofits that support women and girls in developing countries.  In addition to her work with Dining for Women, Lindsay has had broad experience in the private and social sectors.  Recently, Lindsay sat down with FLiP to discuss her own background, Dining for Women, and why being involved in fundraising for non-profits is about more than raising money. 

My first question is about your background.   Can you talk a bit about you path following your undergraduate studies? 

I graduated from Northwestern in 2001.  I had focused on the arts pretty heavily while I was in school, and ended up with a job with the Department of Cultural Affairs for the city of Chicago.  There, I created cultural events across the city, helping bring together art and dance organizations, museums, and theater troupes, and getting them to work together to build that really vibrant arts scene that Chicago is known for.  It was a great experience, but after a year and a half, I decided it was time for a change.  I had always wanted to live abroad, and so I picked up and moved to Ecuador.  I spent two years living there and worked at two hotels. I was most influenced by my time working for an amazing eco-lodge called the Black Sheep Inn.  Everything about their business was planned from an ecological perspective, for example the way their properties were laid out was based on the philosophies of permaculture. They also ran a variety of water and recycling projects in the community and taught courses in the high school.  They worked hard to educate the guests about rural livelihoods in Ecuador and in the Andes.  I spent about a year there, then almost a year in a hotel in another part of the country.  After that, I was introduced to the president of Diversified Agency Services at Omnicom.  When I interviewed for a position as DAS Programs Manager, we really connected, and that’s how I got into working in advertising.  I focused on the business development side of DAS’ business, as well as professional development programming in which I was involved in the running of the Omnicom Business Leadership Program, an executive training series for employees across the Omnicom network.

How did you make the jump back into the social sector?

My heart was always in the social sector, and I found a great position developing a communications strategy for the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, CECP.  I spent two and a half years at CECP, eventually overseeing both our communications and events programming.  CECP is a fascinating group because they focus on targeting CEOs to engage more deeply in a company’s philanthropy strategy.  CECP attempts to illustrate to CEOs the business value of community investment, sharing other CEOs’ perspectives on why philanthropy, community engagement, and social responsibility are important to their businesses, and how giving programs can have greater community impact and are more sustainable.  CECP works directly with CEOs, and with the leadership of corporate foundations or other community investment officers, providing the tools to help them make the strongest possible case for their philanthropy programs.

It was through my work with CECP that I started to learn about other models of how the social sector and the private sector can converge, and so that was the impetus to go to business school. While in my first year at the Yale School of Management I studied the core subjects of accounting, economics, finance and marketing, the second year I focused on classes like development economics, the management of foundations and nonprofits, and microfinance.  I also took a class called Global Social Entrepreneurship where we worked with an entrepreneur in India on a specific consulting project related to their social enterprise.

You co-founded the Dining for Women chapters in New York and New Haven.  How did you find out about the organization?

A friend from my time in Ecuador connected with Dining for Women regarding her community development projects in the region.   Dining for Women was a much smaller organization then and I noticed that there was no New York City chapter. My sister had expressed an interest in finding more philanthropic outlets, and so the two of us decided to start a chapter here.   The model is easy and accessible, and we thought our friends would likely be interested.   It’s social and yet also educational; it seems to have a wonderful impact, and, as I said, it was just too easy not to do.

I am no longer leading the New Haven or NYC chapters. Friends from Yale SOM have taken over the chapter in New Haven, and my sister Deanna Siegel Senior and a good friend, Kristen Crofoot, are now at the helm in NYC, with ongoing support from a few dedicated members who voluntarily help with the invitations, guest speakers and hosting of the events

How is the organization structured? 

There is a national organization that is run by the executive director and Marsha Wallace, DFW’s founder, and governed by a national board.  The organization is supported by many volunteers who take on various programming tasks.   For example, I’m on a voluntary committee that selects the nonprofit organizations that are featured each month. DFW’s mission is to support women and girls in developing countries, so each month chapters around the country meet for a potluck dinner, learn about a single nonprofit organization working towards DFW’s mission, and raise money for that cause. DFW has grown incredibly fast in the past few years, with chapters spring up around the country.

How do the dinners work?

During each dinner, the members learn more about the featured nonprofit organization through materials on the Dining for Women website, videos, and guest speakers.  It’s an opportunity for your friends and your community to get together to have a discussion about the issues that women and girls face areas of under-development.  It’s also a chance to learn about the specific issue that the organization is focused on, and how that organization’s tackles the root causes of the issue.  The money you would spend going out to dinner you instead donate to the organization you have just learned about.  Our chapter’s contributions are pooled with contributions from all of the other chapters around the country.  As a result, each month, tens of thousands of dollars are donated to the featured organizations.

The “for the price of a _____, you could support_____” case for support has become popular with nonprofit organizations of all sizes as a way to rally donors to give.   Dining for Women seems to take it to another level, combining the educational component with a communal meal.  Are there other ways that Dining for Women enhances this case for its donors?

The educational component is really important.  The materials that the Dining for Women volunteers put together are informative. Chapters also receive a video from the featured organization that helps members get a better sense of the group’s leadership, the role and voice of the beneficiaries, the sense of sustainability of the organization, and the degree of impact.  There are really rich educational materials as a result of the in-depth application process and the relationship that is built between Dining for Women and the featured organizations.  In addition, whenever possible, chapters bring in staff or board members from the featured organization by phone, skype, or in person, to answer questions and share more details about the organization’s work.

Dining for Women also leads trips to visit grantees each year. Dining for Women members travel to  places like East Africa or Southeast Asia, and visit the projects to get a much more personal sense of the work that’s being done.

The giving circle is one of the oldest models of American philanthropy.  Why does it work so well for this type of organization?  How does Dining for Women keep it innovative?

Each Dining for Women chapter has a different personality.  The model is attractive to young professionals who want the opportunity to connect with a network of women and learn about the amazing organizations that are working towards sustainable development.

Thanks to Lindsay Siegel for her willingness to share with the FLiP community of readers.  FLiP will include Dining for Women events in the monthly event calendar, with the next one coming up on Tuesday, February 28.  For more information and to register for the next event, please visit http://diningforwomen.org/node/1019

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