By Glenda Graves | Portrait photo by Meredith Mashburn
The Task of Giving
One might presume that giving is an easy thing. All would agree that it is rewarding, but to do it well might not be as easy as one would think. Aristotle once said, “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”
Luckily, those of us in Northwest Arkansas have Jody Dilday to turn to in that situation.
If you have had anything to do with nonprofits in Northwest Arkansas, you have probably heard the name Jody Dilday. She currently serves as vice president of Northwest Operations for Arkansas Community Foundation. But she has been on the side of the nonprofit for her entire adult life.
With Arkansas Community Foundation, Jody has been able to bring her many years of experience and knowledge to an organization that is helping guide giving in our area as well as all over Arkansas. “My job requires me to ask a lot of questions,” Jody said. “It’s sort of like I’m a philanthropy concierge. The concierge at a hotel doesn’t just tell you what they like; they ask questions about your tastes and how much you are willing to spend before they give recommendations.”
Community Foundations are popping up all across the United States and are the fastest-growing sectors of philanthropy in the country. They have their eyes on needs within a community and are able to invite donors to participate in focused giving. “I ask people I meet with what drives their giving and how they view the world,” Jody said. “I help steer them to organizations that align with their values, and I connect them. One day I might be sitting down with someone who is a prospective donor and the next I might be meeting with someone who already has decided to give a million dollars.”
Jody also meets with professional financial advisors in the area to help them best guide their clients with more complex gifts such as highly appreciated stock or distributions from their IRA account, for example. Another important part of her job is working closely with the Community Foundation's local affiliates. She provides training and support toward their mission to engage people and connect resources to build the community everyone wants to live in: one without hunger or child abuse, one with affordable and attainable education and housing, and so much more.
Jody was born and grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. When she was 17, her family moved to Northwest Arkansas for her father’s job in the trucking industry. By that time, she already knew what she was going to do with her life. When she was 4 years old, her family adopted her brother. “I met his social worker, Ruby, and I decided then that I wanted to be a social worker and I never changed my mind,” she said.
She remembers as she was growing up how important service to others was. “Involvement in our church was very valued,” she said. “Plus, my dad was a member of Sertoma International, which is a civic club that volunteers within the community. I remember doing Easter lily sales with my dad for fundraising. I never really thought about the fact that they were so involved in giving back to the community; it was just a part of our life.”
Jody Dilday and friends celebrate her birthday with the Community Creative Center's Wheel Mobile, a traveling art studio, garnering finncial support and building awareness for CCC's mission
She went on to college at the University of Arkansas and earned her social work degree, never straying from that plan she developed as a child. She did internships with Youth Bridge and Peace at Home Family Shelter and then went on to work for the Arkansas Department of Human Services as a social worker in the Division of Children and Family Services. She was doing home visits for families whose children had been removed from the home.
She later went to work for Single Parent Scholarship Fund. She was there for 10 years and utilized her combination of social work and fundraising skills to create a $3 million endowment. In her time there she made local connections and learned about the world of the nonprofit. She loved that she was able to directly impact people. She is still in contact with many of the recipients from over the years. “I have loved watching them flourish after a door to education was opened to them,” she said.
Jody was certainly called for this career path. “There is a job, and there is a vocation,” she said. “We are called and especially equipped for this path. Sometimes it’s for a season, and sometimes it’s for an entire career. Each of my experiences have been building blocks that have led me to where I am now at Arkansas Community Foundation. I feel privileged. It’s nice to not be direct services like I used to be, but to still have a hand it in somehow. I feel lucky to take the broad network that I have now and play matchmaker. You truly must understand nonprofits, and I’m thrilled to be able to help them.”
Philanthropy Club members Mandy Macke, Jane Hunt, Allison Dolan, Jade Terminella, Anne Jackson, Jody Dilday and Jennifer Yurachek at a groundbreaking event for the Children's Safety Center of Washington County in June
Jody said, laughing, “I remember meeting Ruby, the social worker, and knowing that my life would take this path. But I like to say that it’s too bad Ruby didn’t have an MBA or something like that. It would have provided a far more lucrative career!”
And that is a very important part of what Jody and other nonprofit leaders contribute to our community. “One of the great injustices in our society is that to serve in a career that serves others in this way, you have to sacrifice your own lifetime earnings,” she said. “We scrutinize organizations that compensate their employees well. But if you don’t compensate your employees well, they become the ones who are in need. If you do, they are retained and they solve the problems within the community that need to be solved.”
She said we shouldn’t be critical of how much nonprofits are spending on their administration if that administration is solving the problems that they set out to solve. “Do these organizations want someone who is excellent at their job?” Jody asked. “Of course they do. Nonprofits are not selling lemonade. They are tackling truly complex issues and need the best people to do that. It shouldn’t be frowned upon to compensate these people well. It should be a highly competitive job market that is able to compete with the corporate counterpart.”
The Community Foundation hopes to be the thought leader in philanthropy. Jody said she would never discourage giving to an organization that has great brand recognition, but there are many organizations that are doing things that people don’t know about. “If you want to be an informed giver, let us be your partner,” she said. “Visit aspirearkansas.org to learn more about the real issues that your community is facing. It shows you where the problems are and how to create solutions for those problems. Of course, there are certainly organizations that have heartfelt appeals, but there are also ones that are doing very important work that you may never have heard of.”
When it comes down to it, Jody still serves simply as an advocate. She said she believes Arkansas Community Foundation will be the magnet for philanthropy in the future. “It’s where people who have significant and ordinary means will all look for smart giving options,” she said.