Debra Minton, the first senior director of philanthropy and strategic initiatives for Grand Rapids-based Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, began her role in January 2019 after having served Phoenix Society through Philanthropia Partners, the firm she founded in 2010 that sprang from her development background.
Deb, who holds a Bachelor of Science in education from Michigan State University and a Master of Management from Aquinas College, is chair of Inforum's West Michigan Regional Council, a long-time Saugatuck Center for the Arts board member and an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals West Michigan Chapter.
She and her partner, Terri, love to spend time in nature with pups Sam and Belle, enjoy travel to St John, and have three grown children.
How did you become focused on philanthropy?
I fell into it, actually. When I left Michigan State with a secondary teaching degree, finding full-time work was difficult. After dozens of rejection letters, I accepted a role as a public education director at a nonprofit and they quickly moved me into fundraising and philanthropy. I was hooked! The rest, they say, is history.
In addition to raising money, I learned the value—and fun—of volunteering through participation on boards, committees in the community and in my profession. This is where I truly learned that the more you give, the more you get back. I've met so many wonderful people along the way; friendships that will truly last a lifetime.
What makes the West Michigan philanthropic community stand out?
West Michigan embodies the best of philanthropy. It's part of the culture here and we're a model for other communities across the country, second only to Salt Lake City. Our tradition and history of community philanthropy has made Grand Rapids what it is today. We give. We build. We support. We get it done.
It's part of our ethos. It's expected.
What a wonderful place to be a practitioner in this profession!
What's the greatest philanthropy-related lesson you've learned?
People will give if asked—and we have to ask! They really do want to participate in funding bold visions and exciting initiatives. They want to make a difference. It's my role to help them find a way to manifest the good they want to do.
What suggestions would you offer those who wish to begin their charitable giving?
I have always suggested that it's important to identify those issues that you care most about—then identify those organizations doing the most effective work. In other words, have focus. If you care about animal welfare, find the best local shelter. Visit. Volunteer. Check their website. Ensure they are spending their resources wisely. Join their monthly giving club or make an initial, one-time donation. You should begin to get regular communications that help you become more familiar with their work. If it's a good experience, my guess is you'll give again and again.
Hence, your charitable journey has begun. It can be that easy!
Written by Amy L Charles, Editorial Director for West Michigan Woman.