As Seattle Foundation’s Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, Allison Parker leads a team that advises philanthropists on effective giving throughout their lifetimes, as well as through wills and estates. Parker focuses on creating giving plans that satisfy philanthropists while meeting the needs of our community, including through the Foundation’s Impact Investing program. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington and is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®). In 2012, the Puget Sound Business Journal honored Parker with its “40 Under 40” Award.
How do you describe your role as a philanthropic advisor?
I often use the term “matchmaker” to describe my role. I match people who are generous and passionate about our community with causes they care about. I match philanthropists with the organizations that are effectively addressing those needs in our community right now.
What are philanthropists seeking when they approach you for philanthropic advising?
Relationships and trust building. One of the things that can stop a good philanthropic plan has to do with relationships: trust and communication. Building strong relationships in the community and among the family is key. This is a primary role where philanthropic advisors add value. It’s important to ask the philanthropists who they would consult before implementing any significant planning strategy and then bring those people to the table.
At Seattle Foundation, we are working to invest money in the community effectively. Since we want resources in the Greater Seattle region to make our community more equitable for all, we want to remove barriers and help philanthropists make really transformational gifts. We know that philanthropists have a greater likelihood of meeting their impact and generosity potential when they get to know the leadership and staff at an organization, which builds trust on both sides.
What is the value that a philanthropist receives from working with you and your team?
People always ask us to recommend organizations to invest in. What we end up suggesting is a new way of thinking, by providing more context to the broader issue, identifying their personal values and passions and then looking into community organizations that are effectively delivering on their mission. People want to jump in and make those grants yesterday. We are harnessing that enthusiasm while also reminding philanthropists, “Go slow to be effective.”
What motivates you personally to do this work?
Relationships. After you work with someone and get to know them over time, you build more trust and understanding and you can go places with them that you might not have been able to previously. For example, I have conversations about end-of-life giving with philanthropists. We bring in their family, their kids, their grandkids and have some conversations that are based around philanthropy but really create a sense of openness and vulnerability.
How do you engage philanthropists in systems improvement and reinvention?
When speaking with philanthropists, we listen far more than we speak. The on-ramp to giving is often what pulls at your heartstrings and is where giving to direct services – which means funding immediate interventions like food for the hungry or housing for someone right now – comes in. I ask philanthropists why they think people become homeless and I offer perspectives on preventing homelessness. Prevention leads to dipping your toe into supporting domestic violence services, affordable housing and mental health – some of the root causes of housing instability. Funding education for sustainable jobs is another way to prevent homelessness. This kind of system reinvention is a key way that Seattle Foundation is working to create more equity and opportunity throughout our community.
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