Paul Miles, President of the We Raise Foundation; Avana Kelly, an 8th grade graduate of St. Marcus; Donte Edwards, an 8th class graduate of St. Marcus; Ronna Kelly, a St. Marcus Scholar; and Charlotte John-Gomez, President of the Siebert Lutheran Foundation.
The Milwaukee based Siebert Lutheran Foundation has developed a new auction-style funding model to connect local philanthropists with causes they care about.
Recently, the foundation, which administers the legacy of Milwaukee Electric Tool Co. founder Albert F. Siebert, accepted donations for the first time. Until three years ago, all funds of the foundation came from Siebert, who died in 1960.
Operating as an independent foundation under a trust deed since 1976, it has provided approximately $135 million to support causes related to education, Lutheran service and leadership, and poverty alleviation. Albert Siebert did not set an expiry date for the foundation and the directors decided to make it permanent, which means it has been courting new funders in recent years.
“Our board said, ‘We have so much experience working in the Lutheran congregation, and we have this bird’s eye view of the really good work that Lutheran organizations are doing. Why not see if we can find other people who have similar passions and interests so we can do more?” said Charlotte John-Gómez, President of the Foundation.
As part of this effort, Siebert launched a new strategy called Collaborators’ Event in 2020, aimed at connecting philanthropists with like-minded organizations.
Modeled on a similar event developed by the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff, the event allows donors to screen organizations and projects in need of funding before participating in an auction-style event that brings them together. A few years ago, Siebert employees flew to Flagstaff to see the financing model in action.
“There were about 12 organizations (including individual donors, families and other foundations) sitting at this table, and they had a big table on the wall … and they just walked around the room and said, ‘OK, who wants to fund this organization? ‘ And the donors said loudly, ‘I’m going to fund this for $100,000.’ After two hours, they had raised over $2 million. And we were just blown away by this type of model,” said John-Gómez.
Siebert hosted his first Collaborators’ Event in 2020, practically because of the pandemic, and raised over $130,000. It recently hosted its second annual event in a hybrid format, raising over $172,000, attended by 27 donors.
In both years, the foundation has matched those dollars with $100,000 of its own.
“It’s a way of bringing people together with similar visions. They have resources and they want to share their resources with the community, but they may not know about the different organizations, especially the smaller organizations that are doing such a good job,” John-Gómez said. “It was a way of introducing them to these organizations.”
All of the Board members of the foundation — including local executives Thomas Kammerait von Briesen, retired UWM Vice Chancellor Joan Prince and Cathy Jacobsen, CEO of Froedtert Heath — attended the event, John-Gómez said.
The event has also attracted entire families who have attended virtually from across the country.
“We had a family that was scattered across the country, but they were still able to participate via Zoom and chat with each other and make decisions as a family about where to put their philanthropic dollars. It was a really good way to teach the next generation what it means to give back to the community,” she said.