SUMMIT, NJ - Philanthropy is a critical component of any vibrant, sustainable community and, according to someone who has spent considerable time in both 'worlds' -- former Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt -- the world of cause-related giving shares many of the same principles as civic engagement, activism, and even politics. 

"In each of these areas, meaningful change typically starts from the bottom and works its way up," said Glatt. "Lasting change requires champions with perseverance. And engagement, activism, and philanthropy are all inherently democratic."

Glatt says he didn't fully appreciate the holistic similarities until he arrived at his latest venture, the Community Foundation of New Jersey (CFNJ), an alliance of families, businesses and foundations that work together to create lasting differences in people’s lives and communities, supporting charitable giving that is inspired by their donors.

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There, here serves as the CFNJ's new Director of Strategic Partnerships. Having spent the previous decade-plus in the private sector and elective office, Glatt was well-versed in the ways of business and local democracy. Despite all the planning and organizing, a dollar is a dollar no matter its origin, and a vote is a vote no matter who casts it.

It turns out the same is true in philanthropy. A contribution to a worthy non-profit is as important and impactful no matter who writes the check or provides the helping hand.

Data from the Chronicle of Philanthropy show that from 2006 to 2012, low- and middle-income Americans actually increased their giving while high-income Americans pulled back. Following the Great Recession in 2008, those making more than $200,000 decreased their giving by roughly five percent. Those making less than $100,000 saw a five percent jump in giving, and those making less than $25,000 saw a remarkable seventeen percent increase in giving.

Glatt interprets this as "economic empathy" -- those who felt the most pain in the financial crisis were more likely to try and prevent others from feeling the same. More total dollars still come from the wealthy, but the data shows clear trends in the diversity of donors and non-profits haven taken note.

There is, Glatt says, more that can be done to truly democratize philanthropic giving and make it accessible to even more people. That’s where he believes community foundations play a unique role.

"Of the roughly 1,100 philanthropic funds at Community Foundation of New Jersey – including donor advised funds for active giving, scholarship funds for students, and legacy funds for long-term impact – are all sorts of individuals, families, and businesses driving impact on the issues they care about most," he says.

Glatt adds, "These dollars move in to the fund by way of a tax-deductible contribution of most asset types and then move out with the goal of greater impact at qualified nonprofits. Fundholders may then take advantage of the Community Foundation’s knowledge around effective giving, impact-driven nonprofits, and critical issues."

Think of it as having a financial advisor to help plan and implement an investment strategy. A personal charity consultant works with donors at their preferred pace and level of involvement to ensure their charitable dollars are not only achieving what they intend for them, but also exposing you to unique or innovative interventions.

Glatt cites several CFNJ examples to illustrate his point:

"There is the fundholder concerned about pedestrian safety in his shore town; we worked with him and the local police department to fund a pedestrian decoy program that educated the community and resulted in a decrease in the number of pedestrian-related accidents.

There is the fundholder who wanted to expose more young people to winter sports. We worked with this family to reconstruct a ski facility and provide one-on-one mentorship to young people from targeted, low-income communities.

There is the fundholder who, as part of her bequest, asked the Community Foundation to support worthy programs in two distinct areas: preventing domestic violence and promoting small theatre. We have put these dollars to work in expanding services for New Jersey families in crisis, and also promoting numerous theatrical productions."

This evolutionary brand of benevolence is targeted and tactical, and not tied to a set dollar amount. The goal is to make giving accessible and easier for countless residents of the Garden State. It is geared to provide the empowerment that many in communities seek, and simultaneously make philanthropy available to more New Jerseyans than many may have imagined.

For more information on the Community Foundation of New Jersey, visit http://cfnj.org/about-us/.