- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

For many, philanthropists are the rich and famous people who donate millions to projects.

But Greater DC Cares, a District-based nonprofit, is assigning a new definition to the word “philanthropy” by allowing donations of professional skills through pro bono consulting to hundreds of new nonprofits in the region.

Spokeswoman Dee Ellison said accountants, Web designers and college professors with communications expertise have viable skills that could help new nonprofits get started.

“People generally think of philanthropy as dollars,” Ms. Ellison said. But “skilled volunteers [are] just as valuable as the dollars because they help increase the capacity of the nonprofits that serve our community. And the end result is we make the community stronger and healthier.”

Founded in 1989, Greater DC Cares has 16,000 volunteers working with more than 400 nonprofits. Officials estimate that volunteers provide more than 60,000 hours of service annually in the region.

Under the pro bono consulting program, about 200 professionals are working with new nonprofits on about 30 projects, in which they help to develop Web sites, craft mission statements, create budgets, write grants and market their organizations.

The group also works with several large corporations, such as America Online, whose employees offer their professional services to build Web sites and laboratories for schools.

Noel Tieszen is a former teacher who last year founded Interstages Inc., an afterschool program that provides low-income middle school girls in the District’s Ward 7 with lessons in music, history and self-esteem. The group also provides one-on-one academic help.

Ms. Tieszen called the consultation she received from a Greater DC Cares accountant, grant writer and publicist “fantastic.”

“As a startup, this was a one-woman show,” she said. “I know how to balance my checkbook, but you can’t run a business that way. Greater DC Cares has been a great resource in helping us make our dollars go further, and it also helps me free up time to develop relationships with the students and do fundraising.”

Today, about 10 Winston Educational Center girls gather each afternoon at the Hillcrest Recreation Center in Southeast for piano and voice lessons by volunteers attracted with the help of DC Cares’ marketing consultant.

The grant writer is helping Ms. Tieszen develop proposals that will allow her to take the girls on field trips, buy musical instruments and school supplies, and hire more employees to help expand the program.

The girls in the class, who at a recent meeting played a game in which they named positive female role models of color, said Interstages has taught them problem-solving skills, about womanhood and respect for others.

“I learned to always be on time,” said Shakiera Williams, 12. And “if you don’t like somebody, it’s best to write it down on a piece of paper [and talk it out]. Before, I just handled it by fighting.”

Shauntice McCorkle, 12, an aspiring singer, agreed.

“They ask us what our goals are,” she said.

Donny Tiengtum, director of programs at Greater DC Cares, said the group’s goal is to stretch the funds of nonprofits in the region by including at least one or two pro bono volunteers.

“It would be intriguing to see if we could get any department of a nonprofit — marketing, technical, financial — to be completely run by a team of pro bono consultants, not having to spend [lots of] dollars on staffers in that regard,” he said.

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