Millennium Fund teaches lifelong lessons in giving
Taylor Wessels served as a youth representative on the Millennium Fund from 1999 to 2005. Now married and living in Cincinnati, Taylor reflects on the lessons he learned about philanthropy as a teen:
Ever since I was old enough to get an allowance, my parents taught me to donate 10 percent of what I have to a worthwhile cause. After the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an article about this practice, I was invited to serve on the grant committee of the Millennium Fund.
In between cello recitals, trips to Swenson’s, and studying for the SATs, I got an amazing chance to make a positive contribution to the lives of my fellow kids in Akron. I like to think that I gave the Millennium Fund as much as it gave to me, but I took away some invaluable lessons from my time on the grant committee.
Every spring, a sheaf of up to 100 grant applications arrived at my home for review prior to the annual meeting of the grant committee. My parents offered indispensable advice and, with experience, I learned to evaluate applications with an analytical eye.
The applications didn’t all use the polished language of a professional grant writer; some of them weren’t even typed. A list of requests written in neat cursive, or hand-fed through an electric typewriter, betrayed both the vulnerability and the pride of the grantees. I knew these people trusted me with something vitally important to them, even though I was a teenager. I learned quickly that every application represented people, not just numbers.
Working with the Millennium Fund grant committee was a master class in group decision-making. Each member of the committee – made up of educators, community organizers, business leaders and others – brought something different to the table.
I watched these leaders make persuasive arguments and, when necessary, demonstrate flexibility and willingness to seek consensus. This was not mock trial or debate team; I got to participate in real-world decisions under the mentorship of some truly generous community leaders.
The Millennium Fund’s original focus on small gifts cultivated a belief that I still hold today: Philanthropy is for everyone. Before there was Kickstarter or donations via text message, there were people mailing $10 bills to the Millennium Fund. Akron Community Foundation stewarded those tiny droplets of funding into a massive reservoir of giving that will benefit Akron’s children for generations. I learned that you didn’t have to be a Polsky or a Seiberling to have a lifelong impact on Akron through generosity.
Today, I am married to a social worker who shares my passion for giving. With so many worthy causes, we focus our time and financial gifts on a few organizations that are meaningful to us. Although I now live in Cincinnati, I still send a regular gift back home to the Millennium Fund every year. It’s the least I can do for the organization that taught me, at an early age, the joy of giving.