BETTENDORF, IOWA (June 29, 2022) — Siri Pothula was at school when she got the good news. “I saw the e-mail, and my first instinct was to just stare at it,” the Rivermont Collegiate rising senior recalled. “I was like, ‘This is not real. I did not do that.’”
Disbelief gave way to celebration as Pothula came to terms with what she had, in fact, done: Successfully raise a total of $2,500 for the Quad Cities Community Foundation’s Teens for Tomorrow (T4T) youth philanthropy program. For the first time this past year, the T4T teens learned about fundraising and were trained on how to meet with donors to solicit gifts to grow the program’s annual grantmaking budget of $10,000, which comes from the Herb and Arlene Elliott Endowment. All told, the group recently announced its largest total grant award ever, $15,500 in grants to ten local non-profits.
“We saw an opportunity for the program to encompass all aspects of philanthropy, which of course means embracing the importance of making the case for support and raising those dollars,” said Anne Calder, vice president of development. “Developing relationships with donors and learning how to ask for support is a critical piece of non-profit success.”
Neither Pothula nor Jim and Karen Collins, two of the donors who made gifts after meeting with teens, will soon forget the experience. A member of the Community Foundation’s board from 1995 to 2003, Jim still remembers the conversations that led to the establishment of T4T exactly twenty years ago this fall. For him and his wife, the new fundraising component was the next logical step for the already-impactful program. “It’s one thing to research a nonprofit, assess it, and decide that it has potential for positive impact,” he said. “But are you willing to go out and work for it, to help somebody else share your passion and move them to support it?”
The day of her meeting with the Collinses, Pothula was filled with anxiety. After being coached by Calder, she knew her case for support inside and had learned all about the couple, lifelong Quad Citizens with deep ties to community philanthropy — they have generously gifted scholarships at St Ambrose University, and Jim retired in 2008 as president of the John Deere Foundation. “But I’m that person, if I want something from you, I’ll start by profusely apologizing,” Pothula said. “Sometimes I ramble and talk too fast when I’m nervous. I honestly felt like I was doing a bad job. But they were so generous. I must have done something right!”
Calder was proud of all of the students who participated in the fundraising-solicitation process. “They wowed both me and our donors,” she said. “It was a win-win-win and a real joy to witness.”
“I have a whole new appreciation for what the Community Foundation does and what non-profits have to do to gain the resources they need,” said Pothula. “It took me a lot of work to get that $2,500, and it’s hard to think about what it takes to get to $10,000 or more. Especially with smaller non-profits, I now have extraordinary appreciation for their commitment to what they do.”
Whether the teens go on to serve on non-profits boards, give their time as volunteers, or work as non-profit professionals, fundraising is a crucial skill for furthering an organization’s mission. “Professional fundraising is an incredibly rewarding and viable career!” said Calder. “There will always be non-profits that need philanthropic funding, and trained and talented fundraisers are the ones connecting donors with causes that matter to them. It’s a great career choice, so I hope we’re helping build that pipeline of professionals, too.”
Pothula, who is interested in becoming a pediatrician, sees even wider applications for the things she learned. “Adding to my skills, I can talk confidently to adults and negotiate using kindness. And this also just helped me open up because I had a positive experience trying something new. That’s something I’ll carry throughout my life.”
And if she had the chance to do it over? “Just try your best, talk slowly, and be yourself,” said Siri. “That’s what I would tell myself.”
The Quad Cities Community Foundation champions generosity. It is the place where generous people in the bi-state region make both lifetime and estate gifts of all sizes to support the long-term needs and opportunities of their community, and the specific organizations and causes most meaningful to them.