Last spring, we interviewed Coretta McAllister, a bachelor’s degree alumna of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Since graduating in 2015, she earned a Master of Social Work degree. However, McAllister realized that her education in philanthropy was not completed.
She returned last fall to earn her master’s degree in philanthropic studies. Here, she shares why she returned, what she’s learned, and the philanthropic values she hopes to pass on to her children.
Why did you decide to return to the school to pursue a master’s degree?
CM: The biggest reason for my return was the opportunity to work with the Mays Family Institute for Diverse Philanthropy. While working as its graduate assistant (GA), I have the opportunity to get some inside experience on its development and strategy. Diversity and inclusion is a priority for the school (as it should be for many organizations); researching and developing that method on the philanthropic level is extraordinary.
Secondly, I have often found myself delving into the work of social advocacy and development. While most of my background is around community organizing and advocacy, I wanted that extra edge in development at the philanthropic level. I believe that when an opportunity presents itself, that makes sense to who I am, and wherever my path is leading me, I should take it. Plus, I am interested in a Ph.D.
What have you enjoyed the most about returning to school?
CM: I have definitely been working on the adjustments of re-entering school. I have found myself asking, okay, why did I decide to return to school? I am immediately reminded of my belief in lifelong learning, not that you have to be enrolled in school to continue to learn, but I am always equipping myself with more knowledge.
However, I have completely enjoyed my classmates the most! It is so funny because I value people and my classmates really enhance my classroom experience. The discussions, the expertise, the multiple experiences and different viewpoints are so dynamic. I love it!
Long-term, what do you hope to do with your degree?
CM: Right now, my main goal is to get a good start on development and what that actually means and how it works.
I would say that I am not a fundraiser by spirit. It honestly “feels” odd to ask for money. I am a truly independent woman who goes after what she wants. However, in any moment of my life, I was never completely alone. Whether I used social services as a young mom or being on the Hearst Scholarship now that pays for my education, support has come to me in some form of an ask. I appreciate that. I appreciate those supports developing me into who I am and these are some of the reasons that make development/fundraising so important.
So, I plan to use my degree to support development projects for social advocacy.
What is your role with the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy? Why did you decide to pursue this role? Why is it important to 1) Have this institute; 2) Work in the space that you do; and 3) Promote greater understanding of diverse philanthropy?
CM: As I mentioned before, I decided to pursue this position last year when I decided to return to school and complete the master’s degree program.
My role with the Mays Family Institute as a GA is mainly centered on events. The main goal is to create awareness in the community about the Mays Family Institute and encourage other organizations to be engaged with what we are doing.
I would also say this is a two-fold question. One, why the Mays Family Institute and two, why diverse philanthropy. I believe that an Institute like the Mays Family Institute that truly centers on philanthropy in its most diverse ways has the opportunity that only philanthropy has. Meaning, to ask the hard questions that others don’t want to ask and to try new and innovative things that other sectors can’t try. The Mays Family Institute gets to unpack philanthropy in ways that we have been waiting for.
Talk about your family and philanthropy. How did you learn about giving, volunteering, and service growing up? What values did your family instill in you? How did you act on those values?
CM: Every time I think about philanthropy in my family, I always think about my grandmother’s garden. It was never just for her “family.” It was for all of us, really anyone that asked.
But I also think about the act of giving. No matter what, we were taught to love. I learned to love first and love always. I for one believe that love is the true center of philanthropy and I believe that love has gotten me to where I am today.
What causes did your family give to and volunteer with? Did they participate in formal or informal philanthropy, or both?
CM: It’s funny that you ask what causes my family gave to and volunteered with. I had a few family members that were activists but not directly in my household. Outside of that, our giving was at the church. Whether it was money or time, we gave to the church. From large church gatherings or collecting for a family in need, we gave to the church.
However, we must remember that philanthropy comes in many different forms. I remember my mom making clothes for friends and neighbors because it was necessary and my aunt taking us in as her own children in any time of need. Philanthropy acted in formal and informal ways and with love in my family.
Do you continue to serve and/or give with the same causes? If not, what causes are you passionate about?
CM: I do continue to give to the church in any way that I can. I would not say that I am passionate about any one cause but I am definitely in tune with the fact that I love to bring a little bit of joy and sunshine to anyone’s day. Therefore, I am most passionate about causes that involve the love and care of other people.
However, as an African-American woman, I have to say that my giving is motivated by my race and gender. As with any person, I am proud to be who I am. The empowerment and betterment of those like me who have a past like me is so important. I have learned that not everyone is for you and many things can bring you down but the courage to be boldly proud of who you are will carry you through anything.
I will say though that policy is starting to call my name.
How are you teaching your children about philanthropy? What do you hope they’ll learn growing up?
CM: I teach my children to love and be kind to others always. With love, my children learn to give. My eight-year-old is motivated to start a kindness club at school and try to spread goodness and cheer. My 18-year-old is ready to serve her country and give to this world of opportunity. My four-year-old knows kindness towards others. I believe that this is where philanthropy starts. With the ability to be aware, know kindness, act on kindness and walk in love.
My family will start a new tradition this year. We will bake pies for the homeless shelter and volunteer during our Christmas break. The kids ask so many questions and I try to be ready with answers. But most of all, I try to model loving and philanthropic behavior, because they not only learn from what I say, but they learn from what I do.