In our second post about philanthropy in America, online master’s degree student Amanda Weitman had the opportunity to learn that incarcerated individuals can be philanthropists, giving their time, talent, treasure and testimony to writing a newspaper that informs its readership about life in prison and the good that happens behind bars.
A wealth advisor for Wells Fargo Private Bank, Weitman has her bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics, her Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® designation and an MBA. Her parents modeled philanthropy and generosity as she grew up, which created a foundation for her to build on after she graduated from college and was on her own.
When the 2008 Great Recession hit, she made a concerted effort to talk with clients about philanthropy. This ultimately led to a peer-led book club within Wells Fargo Private Bank. The first year focused on how to prepare the next generation to receive wealth well, which transitioned into a focus on philanthropy in the second year since almost every book on preparing the next generation to receive wealth well mentioned that philanthropy is one of the greatest tools to do so.
The philanthropy book club ultimately led Weitman to an interest in restorative justice. She was introduced to this topic by an organization named Project Avary, which provides a 10-year mentorship program and summer camp for kids whose parent(s) are incarcerated. Participating in a walk-a-thon at the local state penitentiary to raise money for Project Avary, Weitman was introduced to other nonprofits that also focused on restorative justice. One of those organizations was Friends of San Quentin News.
San Quentin News is a newspaper written and edited by a group of incarcerated men and published and distributed to all of the prisons in California. The staff invited Weitman to conduct a workshop for them on philanthropy and fundraising, which included discussing the social benefits of the newspaper that business and government were not providing, studying the newspapers’ mission statement, understanding the paper and staff’s core values, and understanding fundraising as relationship building.
“The news staff are philanthropic. They give of their time, talent and treasure. When they realized that their contributions made them philanthropists, you should have seen the looks on their faces,” Weitman explained. “They had been redefined in that moment, even though they truly had been philanthropists all along.”
The staff discussed the social benefits that the paper provides for them personally, for their inside readership and for subscribers on the outside. By the end of that exercise, the staff realized how important the newspaper is and that they deserve to ask for funding to continue their good work.
Weitman worked with the staff to brainstorm ideas of how to build and retain relationships with the newspaper’s donors.
“Fundraising in prison does have constraints since it is difficult to effectively have two-way communication freely with the outside donor population,” she said. “The staff shared that once someone comes in and sees the good happening at San Quentin, the donor’s preconceived notions of what it means to be in prison are erased.”
Since visits to San Quentin are limited, the staff uses the newspaper as a key tool for their communication with donors.
Weitman sees the transformation that occurs in the men she has met in prison who participate in the different programs offered. She also sees how interactions with the men have also been transformative for her: “I’ve learned as much from the men as they have learned from me. They inspire me with their resilience, their willingness to be accountable for their crimes and develop themselves emotionally, socially, educationally, and spiritually to be ready to be productive members of society within prison and once they are released. Knowing that I can be a small piece of their transformation is satisfying and heartwarming.”
She plans to continue her work with the San Quentin News. Her internship project through the master’s degree program will be helping the staff throw a fundraising event on the outside to raise money so that they can expand their distribution reach beyond the California prison system.