Run The World: Amy, the Philanthropist

Amy, the Philanthropist

Gilda’s Club Rochester

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections over the years, but when you volunteer, you vote everyday about the kind of community you want to live in.”   –Unknown

While important throughout the year, giving back to the community is especially pertinent each holiday season. To help propel us all into the giving spirit, this next installment of my series Run the World, featuring women in business, highlights Rochester, New York-based philanthropist, Amy Button.

Amy spends much of her free time bettering her community. After several years serving as a volunteer for various organizations, she co-founded Flower City Philanthropy to help others identify philanthropic opportunities and educate them about volunteering.

Even as I sat with Amy to conduct this interview, she set out on a new mission. Amy and I were connected by our mutual friend, Bethany. She had just come from an MRI appointment, and told Amy that, following the test, they throw away the socks that they give you to wear during the scan. I honestly didn’t think too much about this, but Amy was horrified. She asked Bethany for the office’s contact information, planning to call them the next day. She listed several organizations who would be able to use the otherwise-wasted socks. That constant awareness and sense of compassion embodies Amy’s philanthropic spirit.

ON YOUR WEBSITE, YOU CALL YOURSELF A SERIAL VOLUNTEER; CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT MEANS TO YOU AND TALK ABOUT YOUR VOLUNTEER WORK?

The serial volunteer is a phrase that was coined by Alyssa, my co-founder of Flower City Philanthropy. She thought the term really seemed to describe both of us because we’re always doing something. There are about 3,000 nonprofits in Rochester, and I’ve probably, at one point, done something for the bulk of them, including more recently Gilda’s Club, NextGen Rochester, the Breast Cancer Coalition, ABVI (The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired), and Volunteers of America. But, in college especially, before I really knew that I wanted to focus on something that was meaningful to me, I was going everywhere, trying to be everything for everyone. And so, for me, that’s where the serial volunteer thing came in.

A couple years out of college, I said, “Ok, this isn’t working.” I wasn’t concentrating on any specific volunteer opportunities, and I really felt like I wasn’t best utilizing my time; I didn’t feel this overwhelming sense of fulfillment that I thought I would. I did all these little things that I felt great about, but I wasn’t there often enough to really see the impact I was making. So, that’s when I said, alright, what do I like to do? What means something to me? My family has been heavily affected by cancer, so I emailed some cancer organizations in Rochester – the American Cancer Society, Gilda’s Club, and the Breast Cancer Coalition. I heard back from Gilda’s Club and the Breast Cancer Coalition. When I joined the associate board of Gilda’s Club, that’s when I really started to flourish in volunteering.

SO, HOW MANY ORGANIZATIONS ARE YOU ACTIVELY INVOLVED WITH NOW?

The organizations I’m the most involved with right now are Gilda’s Club and NextGen Rochester, which is a peer-led philanthropy group out of the Community Foundation.

I think in this coming year, my goal is to focus on Gilda’s Club and Flower City Philanthropy (FCP) because I think I can help more organizations through FCP than I could just doing volunteer work.

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that even though I want to help everyone, I can’t. But that’s why I came up with Flower City Philanthropy—in some small way, I can still touch all of these organizations and help make people aware of their missions.

Amy, the Philanthropist

Photo by John Schlia Photography; Gilda’s Club Rochester Heroes Ball, 2016

TELL ME MORE ABOUT FLOWER CITY PHILANTHROPY. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR MISSION?

Flower City Philanthropy (FCP) had been a seed in my mind for several years before it came to fruition. It’s not in me to give less than 110% to something, so I wanted to be sure that if I did it, I would do it right.

People would always ask me, “How can I get involved?” or, “Where should I volunteer?” And I always thought to myself, I wish there was a website where people could go to learn about nonprofits in the area, how to get started with volunteering, and read stories about how people are active in the community. There are a lot of websites that solve pieces of that puzzle, but nothing that pulled it all together. And that’s how the idea of FCP was born.

When I met Alyssa a few years ago, I knew the universe had given me a gift. She was so involved in the community and truly embodied the phrase ‘serial volunteer’. I knew she was the right person to help me make this a reality. And, almost exactly a year after I said, “So, I have this crazy idea…”, we launched our website.

I think there’s also a common misconception that to help an organization you have to give them your money. Another question that I get frequently about volunteering is, “What can I do? I don’t have a lot of money.” It’s not true that you have to be wealthy to give back. I believe in the three T’s – Time, Talent, and Treasure. Your time, the talent that you have, and your treasure is your money or kind gifts. If you have time, give it. If you don’t have time, ask yourself if you can give money. If you don’t have money, figure out other ways that you can help with your other ‘treasures’—donate clothes, or food to food banks. If you’re a lawyer, maybe somebody needs help filling out forms that will take three hours of your time. But that’s why we made FCP. We felt like there was a disconnect from people who had all these great intentions, but they weren’t able to take action. Flower City Philanthropy is working to bridge that gap.

Our mission is evolving as we grow, but we built FCP with the intention of helping people connect their charitable intentions with ways to act on them. We do this by:

• Sharing volunteer opportunities (we hope to further develop this by working with RochesterCares to create a separate Volunteer Opportunity calendar).

• Sharing stories of people working in nonprofits and people volunteering for them.

• Educating people on the missions of nonprofits in the area.

• Providing resources to get involved locally.

• Inspiring people with ideas that they can implement anywhere, not just in Rochester.

Everybody has a cause that is meaningful to them and I think if you can match people to the right organizations, that’s where you’re going to see people really fly.

runtheworld_fcp-logo

HOW DID YOU BECOME SO INVOLVED IN PHILANTHROPIC WORK?

My parents instilled in me the value of giving back at a very young age. They helped me understand that you could make volunteering a natural part of your life, and that it doesn’t always mean you have to give money. You can help your community and your neighbors by taking action on their needs and being generous with your time. Even small things, like plowing the driveway for an elderly neighbor, or keeping extra canned food on hands for the Boy Scout collections, are small steps to take to improve the life of someone else. Things like that just became the norm for us without having to consciously think about them. My parents started me on this path, but I’ve always been someone who likes to be active in my community; I like to help, I like to see people succeed, and I like to see organizations realize their mission.

I also didn’t really start volunteering heavily until I moved to Rochester; there are so many opportunities here. Everything that I am today, the person that I am, Rochester has given to me. This city has built me; it has given me so many ways to be generous with my time and money. You get the foundation from your parents, your upbringing, and what you do in college, but if I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be who I am. This city gave me everything, and I’m so grateful for it.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR VOLUNTEER WORK, FLOWER CITY PHILANTHROPY, AND YOUR FULL-TIME JOB IN MARKETING AND EVENT PLANNING? WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS ABOUT BALANCE?

You have to be organized, you have to be honest with yourself about the time that you have to give, and you have to be proactive. I keep a to-do list that I probably look at fifty times a day—and not because I think I’m going to do all of those things, but to remind myself of everything that needs to get done. Every single thing I have to do, I put time for it on a calendar; that helps you see where all your time goes. Then, you really realize how much (or how little!) time you have.

Recently, I’ve started saying no. I participate, but don’t sign up to do everything. I don’t sign up to call a hundred places for a silent auction; I do things that are realistic to my schedule. The bottom line is, it’s not easy, but it goes back to just being truthful with yourself about how much you can give and what you want to do.

Amy, the Philanthropist

At left: Rochester Marathon. At right: Amy guest bartending at an event to benefit Girl Develop It Rochester.

WHO ARE YOUR ROLE MODELS?

My mom, for sure. She gives everything of herself to other people without asking for anything in return.

In the community, it’s so hard to choose! Honestly, I’m inspired every day by the people around me—people like Cynthia Pacia, someone I’ve always admired for starting so much in Rochester. She was one of the founding members of NextGen Rochester, as well as a group of volunteers called the Philanthrocats. She’s always out there doing something. I used to read her blog in our local newspaper about volunteering, and think, “How could I do more?” There are so many people in the community every day—members at Gilda’s Club or people I see doing amazing things to better our city—these people are so inspiring, and it drives me to be better. What I’m doing is just a drop in the bucket. There are so many people in this community that I aspire to be like, and I want to follow in their footsteps.

OF ALL THE THINGS YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED IN YOUR VOLUNTEER WORK, OF WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD?

I’m proud of starting Flower City Philanthropy; that was a big step. I’m proud of what we created and where it’s going. I’m proud that I am a role model for my niece and nephew—to be that person in their lives who they can look at and see all the things that they can do for the community, if that’s the path they choose in life. I want to inspire them; I want to inspire other people to be part of this community, to take action, to be a part of things. Make that difference that you want to see; don’t just sit there and let other people do it. That’s what FCP is; it’s my way of providing a resource that I didn’t see there and giving people a place to learn about being charitable and philanthropic.

I’m also really proud of the things that I’ve learned being a part of Gilda’s Club. Gilda’s Club has given me a lot of leadership opportunities that I hadn’t previously had. It’s definitely gotten me more comfortable with public speaking. I’m very proud of the person I’ve become from being a small part of their story. I could never repay Gilda’s Club for what they’ve done for me and for my family, and that’s why I’ll give them everything for the rest of my life.

Amy, the Philanthropist

Rochester Young Professionals Board & Volunteering Fair, 2016

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY FOR ME TO START VOLUNTEERING AND GET INVOLVED IN MY COMMUNITY?

You need to take stock of a few things: How much time do you have to give? What do you want to give? Do you want to plan events for somebody; do you just want to donate money? Then, find a cause that is meaningful to you. Once you have that, and you’ve brainstormed this list, go out and find organizations in your community that line up with that. So for me, when I decided that I wanted to focus on something cancer-related, I looked up cancer support organizations in Rochester.

You also have to be honest with yourself, especially with how much time you have to give because you cannot be everything for everyone. If you’re not honest with yourself about that, you’re going to burn yourself out quickly!

All in all, I want I want people to find a way to be involved, no matter what they want to do. If I can encourage or inspire people to go out and do more for their communities, I’ll feel like this journey has been worth it. As individuals, we sometimes think our actions alone are not enough. But together, we are building something great for everyone that comes here after us, leaving a legacy of action and kindness. Rochester is changing; these times are its new renaissance. It’s exciting to be a part of it, and to hope that what I’m doing will be MY legacy, however small it may be. I want to inspire others to think about what mark they will leave, philanthropically or otherwise.

Thanks, Amy! And thanks, also, to Bethany Snyder for the recommendation. If there’s an inspiring woman who you’d like to nominate for this series, please contact me!

{For more advice on how to get started with volunteering, check out this post written by Amy for Flower City Philanthropy’s blog. You can also follow Flower City Philanthropy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Photos courtesy of Amy Button.}