BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
(Editor’s note: Problem-solving charity, or the long-term, strategic building of institutions provides our working definition of philanthropy in this our second feature on the next generation of philanthropists to watch).
For Genevieve Dolan, philanthropy is her passion. Daughter of significant philanthropists and volunteers Mary and Danny Dolan, this irresistibly enthusiastic party planner by career says her objective is to spread awareness of the projects where she shows her passion.
“You have to be present and positive. My parents never pressured me or my brothers and sisters to get involved in philanthropy, I just always knew I wanted to help out. Giving back, particularly to children, was just second nature.
“I get excited—probably talk all the time about it—and I just can’t resist telling my friends all about my key involvements, MetroSquash and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.”
Here’s what David Kay, CEO of MetroSquash, had to say about Dolan:
“As the co-president of our 50-member auxiliary board, Genevieve has clearly established herself as one of MetroSquash’s next generation of leaders. She is able to connect effortlessly with our students and is always engaging new supporters in our mission.
“Just recently, Genevieve asked her friends to donate to MetroSquash in lieu of a gift for her birthday. It is this type of ingenuity and commitment that keeps MetroSquash thriving.
“Genevieve is truly making her mark on MetroSquash and is a shining example of how young professionals can make a difference in the Chicagoland community.”
One of the qualities that set new philanthropic leaders apart is their ability to command non-profit time from people whose work and family life are overflowing with commitments. We asked Dolan about how she leads, and then to answer a series of questions about her take on philanthropy:
“I think to be a good leader you have to try to be incredibly personable. You have to read and understand the people around you, to be conscious of their desires and to be empathic during decision making. Even though not everyone achieves the outcome they might have been looking for, they were heard and know that the leader realizes that they had the best interests of the organization at heart.
“I have always loved sports and every aspect of the concept of a team. With the Auxiliary Board, I am leading a big team. Coming from a large family, we have all had different jobs. If I can work for an understanding environment and mold to that it can lead to the best outcome for all involved.”
CC: Where did you grow up and did you learn about volunteering and philanthropy from your family?
DOLAN: “I grew up in Lake Forest. Philanthropy has always been a big part of my life. In 1995, my family started the John Dolan Golf Challenge. The golf tournament was in honor of one of my older brothers who passed away at an early age due to his brain stem being severed at birth, causing him to be paralyzed from the neck down. The tournament raised $4 million over the 20 years for the Caring For Kids program at The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).
“What I loved the most about that event was the opportunity to get to know the children for which the challenge was ultimately fundraising. Perhaps the most impactful aspect of the event was that each golf foursome was paired with a “pro” – this individual had a physical handicap of some sort, such as a prosthetic leg or one arm or was paralyzed from the wasted down so they played in a wheelchair.
“As I got older, and learned to play golf, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to play with some of these pros. It amazed me that these individuals were better than most of our able-bodied participants. This event truly gave me so much perspective on life at a very young age.”
CC: What was the first volunteer project you ever did? Do you remember how you felt about it?
DOLAN: “I would volunteer with the children at the JMD Golf Challenge when I was younger. This opportunity inspired me to work with the RIC’s Caring for Kids program for a project during high school. During my volunteer sessions in the city, I would go to various activities with the children such as yoga and art classes.
“It made me happy to help these children and see the smiles on their faces. Their life is very complicated, yet they find happiness in everything. It really humbles me to experience things like this and remind me that life is precious and we are all so lucky to be alive.”
CC: Why do you think it is important to show a philanthropic approach to life?
DOLAN: “I go back to the perspective aspect of these experiences. Whether I am working on the MetroSquash Auxiliary Board or at its Center with the children, or at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, I always walk out feeling go grateful to have known the people I am working with and to help create a positive space for these children.
“Like the patients at RIC/Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, MetroSquash students experience hardships of their own due to demographical issues that Chicago has yet to change. This shouldn’t mean they can’t go run around and learn sports and have excellent tutors at their side.”
CC: Tell me why you chose MetroSquash as a place to give a significant amount of your time and what your work entails as a co-chair?
DOLAN: “When I returned from college, I was eager to get involved in an organization in Chicago that worked with children. Since my family has been involved in the squash world for the past 12 years or so, I thought that was a good place to begin. My older sister, Elizabeth, and my dad, who is now the Vice-Chair of the Metro Board, were very involved there. I went to my first meeting with Elizabeth and was immediately intrigued by MetroSquash’s mission and unique approach to children’s education through sports and academics.
“I can’t say I’m a squash pro, but I love sports, specifically tennis, and grew up playing them. They provided an outlet for me to channel energy, kept me in shape and, more importantly, they were so much fun! While the sport aspect drew me in, the ultimate hook was the mission for the children and the opportunity it can and does provide for over 400 children in urban Chicago.
“Being co-chair has been a huge honor for me. I lead with Colin Baker, who is someone I have immense respect for and who has been an incredible partner this year. Our goals this year were aligned and we are seeing them through quite well. Our focus was to reorganize the Auxiliary Board, which will–and has—ultimately increase participation and awareness among the Aux Board members and our peers. I am a very energized person, so I do my best to project that onto our board.
“The Aux Board meets once a quarter, but Colin and I talk several times each month and set meetings for our Exec Committee two to three times per quarter to ensure goals are met. We also work very closely with Ryan and David to make sure our plans align with the MetroSquash Community.”
CC: What most speaks to you about the mission of MetroSquash?
DOLAN: “Well everything really! They’re bringing sports and education to children who otherwise might not get the opportunity.
“Although the program is fun, it’s serious! These children learn discipline and accountability through both squash and academics.
“Also, their approach and mission works. Kids who started in middle school are now in college because of the skills they learned at MetroSquash. How cool is that!”
CC: Do you also work as a volunteer there?
DOLAN: “I volunteer as much as I can, however, my focus is on the Auxiliary Board right now and keeping things organized and energized.
“I try to get over the to the centers on the weekends sometimes, but I usually always volunteer for The Cup and other events if I can. I would really love to be a mentor there someday as well.”
CC: The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is amazing, how have you continued your connection there?
DOLAN: “My late brother spent a lot of time there before he died, and my family will forever be grateful for the care they provided.
“My dad has been on the board at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab since I can remember. When my sister and I found out we could be on the Associate Board, we jumped on the opportunity and have been active members for two years.
“Last year I was the Logistics Chair for our main fundraiser called Art In Motion.
“The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is one of the most inspiring places I have ever been to! They are really changing the way we see medicine and the recovery process. It’s really exciting!”
CC: You are an event planner. Tell me about that business and what skills you bring from that to MetroSquash and your other volunteer experiences?
DOLAN: “I’ve been working for Steven Valenti at All Things Party, LLC in Lake Forest for three years. My experience has been very educational and fun, but it’s taught me so many life skills that I’ve been able to use in my philanthropic and social engagements. Steve is truly the king of events, so anything he does or says, I just try to soak up.
“Before I was co-chair at MetroSquash, I was the Events Chair and helped plan socials for our Aux Board. What was so important to me during this position was the opportunity to bring our board together in one place and really get to know each other and share our passions about MetroSquash. Since meetings are only an hour we don’t always get the time to talk amongst ourselves and relax, so I thought it would be fun to start a MetroSquash Aux Board Social with a fundraising component. We started this in 2016 at Revolution Brewery and this year it will take place at Old Grounds Social on February 23! I love this event because it’s for our board and our peers. The goal is to not only come together and celebrate the MetroSquash Community, but also to spread awareness to our friends and family, and hopefully raise some money while we are at it.
“So long story short, my event planning skills helps me keep our board organized and on track. There are so many details that need to be captured—just like planning an event—that I have to make sure I work with, what I like to call, my team, and delegate appropriately. And of course, in the end, it’s all supposed to be fun just like events are, so keeping a positive attitude is very key to everything related to volunteering.”
CC: Does philanthropy counteract stress which is probably one of the greatest challenges facing young people today?
DOLAN: “Absolutely! I work at a high pace and I often take on probably a little too much, which is stressful, however, at the end of the day, I am so thankful to be involved with my philanthropic endeavors. I’ve been given a wonderful life, and want others to be able to enjoy their lives at the fullest as well.”
CC: What advice would you give a person on how to get further involved in philanthropy in their community?
DOLAN: “Figure out what you’re passionate about and what drives you. It’s kind of like finding a job–you should enjoy it! Children and health have always been a passionate part of my life. I grew up babysitting and being a camp counselor, and playing tons of sports with kids.
“Being happy and healthy is really important to me, so I found some organizations that promote these characteristics. I am also very personable and social, so participating is huge for me. However, some people are more introverted, so sitting on a board may not be for them. Fundraising is always another option if you don’t have the time. I just don’t have the funds, so I give my time.”
CC: How do you see your philanthropic work say 20 years from now?
DOLAN: “I have loved heading an auxiliary board and would love eventually to be playing a significant role on a major board such as MetroSquash or wherever my passions might lead me. And I definitely want to be able to give more financially.”
For more information about MetroSquash, visit metrosquash.org
For more information about the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab visit sralab.org