The benefits of philanthropy extend beyond tax deductions and other financial gains. As a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, Denny Cummings has seen how charitable giving can transform a donor’s sense of self—a phenomenon he dubs “the personality conversion.”
“I can see a higher level of joy in their life that comes from being connected to the community and gifting,” says Cummings, a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch who focuses on wealth management. “It does connect them a little bit more to their environment and to other people when they begin to make charitable gifts.”
[pullquote]“It makes your heart expand”: Financial advisor Denny Cummings sees charitable giving build community[/pullquote]
This internal sense of kinship with the community and personal satisfaction is something Cummings has experienced himself. Through a donor advised fund at The Chicago Community Trust, he supports an array of nonprofit organizations that have created a satisfying philanthropic experience for the nonprofits he funds as well as himself.
Since he opened his donor advised fund in 2001, Cummings has been an ardent supporter of WTTW, a public television station in Chicago, and Kartemquin Films, a nonprofit that produces award-winning documentaries that are often aired on WTTW. He says their dedication to providing unbiased, insightful and compelling news and stories sets them apart in a media landscape overflowing with skewed information.
Cummings not only donates funds to WTTW, but also serves on its Board of Trustees. In that role, he raises money for the nonprofit and looks for ways to maximize donors’ gifts. For example, Cummings has encouraged viewers to donate to WTTW during its annual fundraising telethon by offering to match donors’ funds up to a certain amount. His challenge grants have helped the station reel in more than 500 donors each time.
“I think I’m going to start doing more of that with other organizations, too,” Cummings says. “It’s really important for each organization to raise money on its own and not to just rely on me and a few other donors. So if you can use a matching grant to incent other people to contribute as well, then not only is more money raised, but there are more individual donors, which is also helpful to the organization. And certainly it leverages my gift.”
In addition to supporting media organizations, Cummings uses his donor advised fund at the Trust to donate regularly to nonprofit organizations that improve the quality of life in the region, particularly for children. He supports the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the YWCA, UNICEF and the Warren Cherry Scholarship Fund, which provides college scholarships to graduates of Evanston Township High School.
His challenge grants have helped the station reel in more than 500 donors each time. “I think I’m going to start doing more of that with other organizations, too,” Cummings says. “If you can use a matching grant to incent other people to contribute as well, then not only is more money raised, but there are more individual donors, which is also helpful to the organization.”
Cummings prefers to donate to nonprofits through his donor advised fund because it allows him access to the vast resources of the Trust. He has taken advantage of the Trust’s grant making expertise to vet nonprofits that he wants to support to ensure they are viable, sustainable organizations. He will also be able to shape metropolitan Chicago’s long-term future as a member of the 1915 Society, which honors donors who made a gift to the Trust in their estate plans.
Cummings also gains a better understanding of philanthropy by working with the Trust. As a Trust donor, Cummings has the opportunity to attend Impact Chicago events, educational briefings about the critical issues affecting the Chicago region exclusively for the friends and donors of the Trust. In addition, he is a member of the Trust’s Professional Advisory Committee, which helps keep him up to date about the state of philanthropy in the region and charitable gift planning.
But giving back to the Chicago region with impact is the most important reason Cummings is actively involved in the Trust. “When you stop focusing on yourself and accumulating more stuff and money for yourself and begin to gift it, you begin to feel more successful. You begin to feel more like a member of the community,” Cummings explains. “It makes your heart expand.”