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Philanthropy: Making Relationships That Last at Mercy Home , Ep. 6 of Around Our Home Podcast

Philanthropy: Making Relationships That Last at Mercy Home , Ep. 6 of Around Our Home Podcast

Christine Nikolich:
Welcome to Around Our Home a show about the impact Mercy Home for boys and girls has on kids and
families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself. This is Around Our Home, I’m Christine Nikolich, my guests today are two members of Mercy Homes, philanthropy department, and one of our amazing donors.

Our philanthropy department works to raise money for Mercy Home by building relationships with
donors and encouraging them to deepen their support of our home. We are lucky to receive all kinds of gifts, including cash donor advised fund grants, charitable gift annuities, wills, and living trusts, real estate and more. These major gifts are generally facilitated through our philanthropy department. It is through this department and our generous donors that we were able to change so many lives at Mercy Home.

Our first guests are Phil Zielinski and Beth Lye. Phil is the director of philanthropy. He leads our plan giving and major gifts programs, which support Mercy Homes programs and operations. As a
philanthropic advisor, Beth is part of a team that meets and creates relationships with donors and encourages them to support Mercy Home. Hey Phil and Beth, how’s it going?

Beth Lye:
It’s going great, the sun just came out to the clouds was always cheers me up. And so we’re going to make it a great day today.

Christine Nikolich:
How are you doing Phil?

Phil Zielinski:
I’m fantastic. Thanks so much for having me on Christine.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks for joining. I’m really excited to learn more about what you guys do. Can you kind of start off explaining what philanthropy is for me?

Phil Zielinski:
Beth and I both work at Mercy Home for boys and girls as philanthropic advisors. And what we did is we actually merged our major gifts team and our planned giving team a few years ago. So basically we talked to donors about large gifts, either in cash or other assets. And that could be through a gift in stock or real estate or setting up a trust or even leaving the home in your will. It’s really talking with donors who by and large are really interested in helping these kids at the home. And talk to them about how their larger guests to make a huge impact in the lives of these kids.

Christine Nikolich:
What drew you both to working in philanthropy?

Beth Lye:
Well, for me, it’s less the what and a lot more of the why. Because when the average person realizes that they can make an incredible impact on a cause that’s meaningful to them in a way that they never realized, including a bequest to charity or by making a donation of other assets that they’ve forgotten that they even had. It’s just really a wonderful experience for both the donor and then also for the organization, and ultimately the kids who’ve benefits. So there’s just nothing more fun than getting to know people who care about a cause as much as you do.

Phil Zielinski:
I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s a spot on answer from Beth. I think for me personally, I knew a long time ago that I wanted to help that my driving force in my life is to help people who need help. And so this was kind of a marriage made in heaven, I think that I did not realize this. If you would ask me when I was 22 or even 26 or 27, if I would see myself asking people for money for a living, I would say there’s no way. But certainly it’s becoming this really great way for me to talk to those who really want to help as well, and to make a real difference in the lives of kids at Mercy Home or any other organization that I’ve worked in a similar field.

Christine Nikolich:
What drew you to working for mercy?

Beth Lye:
I am super lucky to be here for so many reasons. I worked at a number of different organizations, mostly smaller ones. In my last organization I was a one-stop development shop person. I did all the individual giving, I won’t go into details of what that involves, but it was a lot. And I was pulling my hair out most of the days, even though I loved the organization and the mission we were doing. And I was lucky enough, I met the person who is in my job now, who was my predecessor here. And she was just incredibly generous with sharing resources. And she introduced me to her boss who is now my boss and I’m incredibly grateful to her for doing that. And then of course, if you can be helping kids and not just helping them through what is just one of the most awkward and stressful periods of time for all of us, but then also to help them in a way that’s really setting them up for a bright future. There’s just nothing more important than that.

Phil Zielinski:
I think what really drew me to Mercy Home from the outset was the mission hearing about the kids who come through our doors and their backstories and what life was like before they heard about this place. And the transformations that happen because of their time here because of the relationships they make, because of the really amazing service model. And I have to give a quick shout out to all of our coworkers. I think my gosh, the folks who are over on the program side were really helping these kids to heal, peeling back the onion as one of my favorite therapists is to say.

Phil Zielinski:
Really basically taking some, some kids from very difficult situations, making them understand that the trauma they’ve experienced is not their fault. To be a part of that, and as we both just said, we don’t have … I’m not a therapist, I don’t have the background to really do this transformational work with these kids, but what I can do what I can give to be a part of this mission is a gift of gab with donors. And some sort of some know how with, with how to administer grants and how to make sure that we’re actually getting money in the door to support those needs in those causes.

Phil Zielinski:
I feel so fortunate to work at a place where all of my coworkers are both smart and nice. I think that’s pretty powerful because you don’t always get both of those things together. So it’s nice to have people who, whether it’s on the advancement side with Beth and I, and many others, or if it’s on the program side. Even in administration or facilities, all the other moving parts. Everyone’s in this for the same cons. And it’s a really powerful thing that you can see and feel.

Beth Lye:
Part of the reason I love our job is because the family here is not just the kids and not just the staff member, but it’s the people who’ve been supporting this work for years who are very much part of the work and the reason that we’ll be able to be here as well. And so I just feel so fortunate to be able to have a job where I get to reach out to those people and get to know them and get to make that connection that’s really between them and the kids, because any non-profit is a three legged stool. You need a program that works, you need people who are participating in it, and then you need people who are willing to fund it. And without any one of those, the whole thing falls apart. It’s just a wonderful reciprocal relationship all the way around.

Christine Nikolich:
Well, it’s amazing how much you both genuinely love your job. I think that’s really great to hear, and it’s also rare that people love their jobs. So I’m glad you guys are both happy in her positions. I think that’s awesome.

Beth Lye:
Oh my gosh, it’s the best job in the world. I say that all the time. It’s absolutely the best job in the world.

Christine Nikolich:
How has COVID changed the way you do your job?

Phil Zielinski:
The real bread and butter of our job is to go out and see donors and take them to lunch and meet them in their houses and hear about what life was like with them years and years ago, or, or look through photo albums of their family. And hear what’s important to them, which I think is really, that’s my part. The part about the job that I love the most is really hearing about what makes our donors tick on an individual level level and hearing why it is that they support a place like Mercy Home. And it’s great to hear those stories. And so, we still are having those conversations. They’re just over the phone now. And so that’s the easiest way to see how this has changed things. I think the COVID has changed everything all around us. So the physical location of the home, where our kids can go and can’t go. Who is able to interact with the youth and program. The program staff has changed everything that they do for the kids in residents,
but then also everything that’s going on in the community care model. So, as I mentioned to all the folks who are out in the field, who maybe aren’t actually living with us that
has, has been a big shift in the way that we provide services, and the way that Beth and I then relay that information to donors. Just because we’re doing it over the phone, that’s just a different way of communicating and that’s usually fine, but now we’re telling them stories in real time about things that would have never happened a year ago. This would’ve never happened in the history of Mercy Home.

Beth Lye:
One thing that has not changed about our job is that part of our job is to let people know that they should be considering making plans for their estate and that anyone, no matter what age should have their paperwork in order, and that you can make a gift to charity in your will. And for so many people, that’s such a meaningful decision. No one likes to think about their demise, but COVID, I think has forced the issue for a lot of people to realize that there’s none of us will last forever. And so I know a lot of people have been really using this time to think deep about who they are and their values and what’s important to them and what legacy that they want to leave on this earth.

Christine Nikolich:
I didn’t even think about that. Do you feel like you’ve gotten more calls just after COVID about people thinking about what’s going to happen after they are gone?

Phil Zielinski:
I figured that we get sort of an uptick and in people who are interested in final plans, whether that’s a will or a trust or beneficiary designation. It takes many different forms for we definitely saw, especially in March, April and may an uptake in people who were contacting us. And actually that was seen across not just in the philanthropic space, but estate planning attorneys their phones were ringing off the hook. People were really frightened and they wanted to make these plans that either they’d never made a will before. And this is the first time kind of thinking about this, or they had written something up years ago and life has changed. Now, there was a birth or a death or a divorce. Different family circumstances.

Christine Nikolich:
I do feel like it’s really important to think about this stuff early, even if it’s hard to think about it’s important.

Beth Lye:
I think sometimes it’s a little bit easier to think about it when you’re young, because it feels so far away, whatever age I would encourage anyone to sit down and start thinking about these things, because it’s just really fun when you cast it in the right light of who am I, what’s important to me, what impact do I want to leave behind? What’s the rock that I want to stand up to say I was here and I made a difference, and this is how, and this is why. And that journey is different for everyone. But the earlier you start asking yourself that question, the bigger, that impact that you leave will be, and what a joyful way to live your life.

Christine Nikolich:
Can you explain what the different options are that donors have when it comes to giving?

Phil Zielinski:
So everyone knows about just writing a check or giving cash to charity. That’s sort of the most standard way. And it’s the most common way for everyone on earth to give any charity organization, a 501c3 in the US or a non-governmental organization that they may be abroad. But I think what’s so interesting about our team. We really deal with these non-cash assets. It’s the stuff that people don’t necessarily think about as their first thought that might be a gift from.

If you own stock or a mutual fund or something where it might be, if you have an IRA and you’re over 70 years old, you can give what’s called a qualified charitable distribution. You can give your house or your bank account as a transfer on death accounts. There are so many ways to give and I think what’s so interesting is that Americans we usually have a very tiny portion of our wealth, that’s tied up in cash in a checking account or something. What’s interesting what Beth and I get to do is talk with donors about what would make sense for you in order to, to really increase your impact on the lives of these kids. What would make sense for you to make a charitable gift?

Christine Nikolich:
I had no idea you could give your house.

Phil Zielinski:
Yes, you can. It’s a little bit complicated, but there’s actually, there’s ways that we’ve seen this before, where people actually can give their house and then remain living in their house until they pass away. So you can actually transfer that to a charity, continue living there for the rest of your life. And then after you pass, then falls back to the charity as well.

Beth Lye:
One of the things I encourage everyone in my, even in my personal life to do is to consider putting a charity as a beneficiary of your retirement accounts. It’s super easy. You just go on your company’s website, wherever your provider is, it’ll have a beneficiary form. Then you just add the name of the charity, along with the EIN number, which is like their tax number. You can call any charity in the world and they will give you that sometimes they even have it on their website.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s all really good to know. You guys are making it sound way easier than I thought. Choosing a nonprofit to give to is really hard. And there are hundreds and thousands of nonprofits in the country, in the world. How do you make the process less intimidating for donors?

Phil Zielinski:
The people that we talked to by and large already know Mercy Home. The folks who don’t go … I find those to be really interesting conversations because they may have heard about us from a friend or they picked up a letter for the first time and just have some questions about who we are, and what we do. But for folks who are wondering from the long list of a million different charities to choose from, I would say some of the best places to start are with charity navigator, which is a nonpartisan non-biased organization. That really looks at basically the underlying structures of charity organizations across the country.

Beth Lye:
For a lot of people looking at their own life is a great place to start both looking at the pain points, like where were the times in my life I really needed help and it wasn’t available. And how can I make that help available for others. Or the opposite of looking at the course of your life and thinking, wow, I really had help at this particular time in my life and I’m so fortunate that my whole life would have been different. Had it not been for that help. I want to make sure others have the same support that I did. I definitely hear that in the stories of the people who support Mercy Homes.

Beth Lye:
We also have some really, really thoughtful and generous people who support the home for the exact opposite reason that they had wonderful, beautiful childhoods. And they realize what a gift that is and that, and they realize that not everyone has had that same experience and so they want to do what they can to help other kids. Most people who support organizations have have a few causes that mean that are meaningful to them. I think from what I see three to five seems like a really manageable number for most people, or you can still make an impact, so really get involved and not feel like you’re overwhelmed with information.

Christine Nikolich:
You both have touched on this a bit already, but why do you think it’s important to give to nonprofits like Mercy Home?

Beth Lye:
Oh goodness, this is the stuff of life. This is what it really boils down to. To be able to make the difference in the lives of another person to make your stands on this earth and say, this is who I am, and this is what I believe in. And this is the difference, I mean, that’s what it’s all about.

Christine Nikolich:
How does it feel knowing that the work that you both do helps directly impact our kids and families lives?

Phil Zielinski:
The donors really are the heroes here. They’re the ones who they’re the gas in the car that makes the engine run. So we wouldn’t exist without them. What’s fantastic about our role for Beth and I is, we are that conduit. So we talked to the donor, we asked them for money, they then give the money and that results in everything else that happens at Mercy Home. We’ve got therapy and educational services and vocational services. I think that our job also is to be a storytellers.

And so we tell the story of the kids who either currently live here or used to live here, the aftercare numbers and relating those stories to donors too. It can be transformational just to hear that you made this gifts 10 or 20 years ago, here’s what happened from that gift. Did you know that your mother or your father they’ve been giving for for 50 years to this organization that’s existed since the late 18 hundreds, their gifts impacted these kids in such a powerful way. And to hear those stories, again, these are all stories from individuals, but to, to be able to tell a son or a daughter or niece or nephew that the impact that their family member has made, it’s, it’s amazing.

They’re there definitely have been tears shed either in person or over the phone about those kinds of stories. So it’s a lot of fun to be able to be that bridge and to be that conduit.

Beth Lye:
The other side of that though too, is also showcasing the need and telling the really heartbreaking stories of what happens to these kids before they come here. And before Mercy Home is part of their life, just so people know how desperate of a need there isn’t a city of Chicago to help kids who don’t have anywhere else to go. So I guess that’s a hard part of our job is to tell that story over and over again, to break people’s hearts in that way, but it’s important and it’s real and it’s happening until people need to know, so they can do something to change it as well.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks so much for talking to me today. It was so interesting. Learning more about philanthropy, and I really do appreciate the work you guys do.

Phil Zielinski:
Well. Thanks so much Christine, this has been great.

Beth Lye:
And likewise, you do great work here. We’re so proud to have you as a co-worker too.

Phil Zielinski:
I will second that. Thanks again, Christine.

Christine Nikolich:
Our final guest is Mercy Home donor Flo. Flo is especially passionate about helping your kids grow and succeed. And we’re grateful that you took the to talk with us today. It’s so nice to meet you over the phone.

Flo:
Well, bless your heart, touch my heart to even think about wanting to do this.

Christine Nikolich:
So how did you become interested in Mercy Home?

Flo:
Well, I got a flyer or something in the mail from Mercy Homes, and I was blessed by having been born into a Christian family who practiced its faith. So I grew up knowing the importance of giving back to others, and honoring God in the process. So in a sense, being aware of the needs of boys and girls have long been a part of my life. I’m a kindergarten teacher, so I’ve been in interested in and concerned about boys and girls, I guess, most of my life. So when I saw this, it seemed like a good way to, to help.

And then I realized that not only could I give enjoy to help them. One of the things that Mercy Home, let me know was that if I gave him an annuity of a thousand dollars, then with my age group 90 plus, they would give me an annual return of that money of 10.7%. And I said, “well, that’s interesting. I’d never heard of such a thing.” So in a sense, you see, I’m having fun giving back and being blessed in the process.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s amazing. Are you originally from the Chicago area?

Flo:
No, I’m a Hoosier by birth, born in Indianapolis, Indiana grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. And came to Lexington years ago when my children’s father was admitted to that first medical school class here in Lexington. And so, it’s been a journey with me and the good Lord and showing me the way he brings people into our life. And that’s what he did with Mercy Homes and Beth.

Beth Lye:
I could not agree more. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you, and I will tell you, it’s fun to work in philanthropy and especially with these gift of new news. Because it’s just, like you say, it’s a way for many people to make a significant yes to an organization they care about, in a way that gives them something back during their lifetime as well. So that’s pretty fun.

Christine Nikolich:
So what aspects of Mercy Homes work with children and families matters most to you?

Flo:
Well, it’s just that these children have a safe place to come and live and benefit from being in a loving environment. Mercy Homes is not only physically taking care of boys and girls, which is a concern of mine, but spiritually and emotionally. How

Christine Nikolich:
Do you feel after making a donation to Mercy Home?

Flo:
Well, that’s the joy part she sees and I’ve learned, well, scripture tells us that God loves a
cheerful giver, so I can’t help, but feel joyful. It’s just been a part of the fabric of my life. When you come to think about it, thanks to my mother and father.

Christine Nikolich:
It really sounds like it’s just instilled in you, which is amazing.

Flo:
Well, it’s again, it’s by the grace of God, plant in me where I in the family.

Beth Lye:
And how beautiful now, then also you’re giving that opportunity to kids who, who haven’t been given that same guessed by their birthright. You’re making the commitment to give them a kind of a second chance at that and making sure that they still have a loving place to call home.

Flo:
Young people are the future of this country.

Christine Nikolich:
What would you say to someone who’s considering donating to Mercy Home?

Flo:
Do it, you will find joy in the process. Because you will know that boys and girls who’ve been
traumatized perhaps in their lives and who don’t have a loving home are being given a second chance and what a joy and privilege to be able to give that to another human being, especially a little child.

Christine Nikolich:
So grateful for you, and for all you do for the kids and families of Mercy Home, we wouldn’t be here without people like you.

Flo:
Well, it’s joy to talk to you, gals. And, and again, any time, if I can be of any kind of help, let me know.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks for listening to Around Our Home. Thank you to Phil, Beth and Flo for joining us today and
talking to us about the great things our donors do to support our mission every day. Be sure to visit mercyhome.org/podcast, to join the conversation, access the show notes, and read more about what’s going on Around Our Home, on our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on social media, by searching @mercyhome. If you have any questions, please email us@infoatmercyhome.org. Please like subscribe and share this podcast with your colleagues, friends, and family. Mercy Home for boys and girls is a solution for kids in crisis. And we hope this podcast will motivate you to support our mission. My name is Christine Nikolich, and this is Around our Home.

Welcome to Around Our Home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews, as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself.

#6 – Philanthropy: Making Relationships That Last at Mercy Home

In this episode, Christine Nikolich interviews two members of Mercy Home’s philanthropy department and one of our amazing donors. Our philanthropy department works to raise money for Mercy Home by building relationships with donors and encouraging them to deepen their support of our Home. We receive all kinds of gifts, including cash, donor advised fund grants, charitable gift annuities, wills/living trusts, real estate, and more. These major gifts are generally facilitated through our philanthropy department. It is through this department and our generous donors that we are able to change so many lives at Mercy Home!

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