Melanie Hamburger is passionate about making philanthropy accessible at any dollar level, and helping women leverage their intellectual and financial resources for social impact. She is an in-demand speaker on the influential role that women now play as majority asset owners in the U.S. At Catalytic Women, Melanie works with a talented team to engage women who are influencing their wealth.
Melanie’s career spans two decades of working with leaders in business and philanthropy, and helping them impact local, regional and global issues. Her expertise spans major gift fundraising for leading nonprofits including The Nature Conservancy, brand management for Procter and Gamble, and corporate finance for Levi Strauss and Co.
Her own children are a reminder of the legacy she wishes to create. Melanie holds a BA cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She and her family live in Mill Valley, California.
Q: You have significant experience in fundraising and it looks like Catalytic Women is changing the model of fundraising for non-profits – how did you come to be such a connector? How did Catalytic Women start? What’s your goal for Catalytic Women?
MH: My background is in fundraising, although I think a big part of what we do is to change how people think about giving. Women are financial drivers for social impact funding, including philanthropic giving and investment.
I became a connector because I have a great role model in my mother. She had a huge network of friends and acquaintances. I remember how she would introduce people. She’d provide context so they had something to talk about; she’d find common connectors. She made people feel very comfortable, which is important to me. It’s simple to make people feel comfortable, but you so rarely see people really smiling and listening. She was my role model.
Catalytic Women started with my mom as inspiration. I had the opportunity to care for her after cancer diagnosis, before her death. We had a tough relationship as I was growing up, but as she came nearer to her death, I got to spend some wonderful time with her. During this time she lived in Hawaii and her dynamic of connecting turned her house into a gathering place. People in the community said they never saw a place where everyone was welcome. Everyone, regardless of culture mixed together and all felt welcome at my mom’s house. Her inspiration made me think about things that I could do to make women feel welcome and confident within the area of financial giving.
Q: What mistakes do non-profits make in their approach to fundraising? If you have a message for people seeking funding, what would it be?
MH: The goal for Catalytic Women is to build women’s financial stability and ability to give. Charitable giving is a positive way to engage women – and not just engage them as legacy donors, but engage them NOW. There is always an opportunity to make an impact. Small gifts over a lifetime would net millions more dollars into non-profits. But we have found that women want to be very educated about non-profits before they donate. Catalytic Women gives women a way to learn more about the work of non-profits, and to connect to great organizations and with other donors.
Non-profits make two key mistakes in fundraising, which I observed when I was responsible major gifts fundraising for the Nature Conservancy. The first mistake I saw was that non-profits don’t focus on the wife in couples, although it’s almost always the wife who drives the decision. The second is that many people forget lower level donors can make an impact. Many nonprofits focus on that “big gift,” yet it’s the steady smaller donations that provide stable, year-to-year financial support for an organization. Balancing major gifts and steady smaller gifts is a difficult line to walk. Ignoring people who give at lower levels is a very large missed opportunity for organization to engage donors over long term.
Q: What is your passion? How do you find balance?
MH: My passion is helping others cross the divide between I wish and I can. This passion plays out for me personally in being the kind of person that Does instead of Hopes. It plays out for me as a mother raising children who are confident but humble. I’ve learned that the best way to engage is to get out there and make mistakes. I’ve found incredibly smart, successful people from all walks of life who don’t necessarily know a lot about charitable giving. Legacy gifts are less fun than participating NOW. My passion is getting people to leap across that divide, that chasm of fear that holds us back from participating fully.
To find balance, I need to cultivate my own eco-system to thrive as a person and professional. For me, balance is two-fold:
- Being present in nature, like running with my dog. I make that a priority for health and mental well-being and it gives me time to reflect. I’m a student of Buddhist philosophy and cultivating awareness and being in the moment. Appreciating what we have provides a lot of perspective.
- Making time for my girlfriends, getting together to see a movie, having a drink, or just catching up. I get so much satisfaction and delight from spending time with my friends.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done?
MH: Being a really good parent to my two teenagers. I’m not a natural mother. I never babysat as a kid and I was an only child, so I didn’t have experience with kids. I always wanted to be a mother, but I didn’t have a ton of confidence. I really struggled with the baby years, when everyone else made it look easy. Now I’ve made changes to carve out time to be present with my teens. It’s challenging and exciting, difficult and rewarding. I have an especially close relationship with my daughter and I’m deeply grateful for that. I’m really present with my son and understand the difficulties in his life. I’m raising really good human being who are not entitled or spoiled, but want to give back and solve the world’s problems. My children are my legacy – raising people who make the world a better place is the gift I give the world. I treasure this precious time before they go away to college.
Q: What is one essential ingredient that makes you who you are?
MH: Fearlessness. There’s not much in the world that I’m afraid of. And I believe that the universe is a benevolent place – that if I stumble and fall there will be a net that catches me or there will be a hand that reaches out to me. That’s so empowering. I’m not afraid of what could go wrong, because I can manage. There’s always support when you need it, even though you sometimes have to ask.