Ideasmiths: Lansie Sylvia’s Philanthroparty: Philly Give & Get
When asked to profile a young leader in Philadelphia, one of the hardest parts is actually describing the person to those who haven’t had the opportunity to meet them – not just in terms of their accomplishments, degrees, and pieces of paper worthy of more than a refrigerator door – but their personality, demeanor, and character: the things that effortlessly and without them knowing it, make them a leader. And with Lansie Sylvia, Founder of Philly Give & Get, the first word that comes to mind is, not surprisingly, “giving.”
Throughout all of our conversations and emails, Sylvia expressed a desire to constantly improve not only Philadelphia in general, but every willing member of the community, both professionally and personally, whether through sharing skills, conversation, insight, or resources. A passionate member of Indy Hall, Lansie seeks to shake up millennials’ perspectives and interest in the idea of philanthropy and giving through Philly Give & Get.
Philly Give & Get is a charity “date” auction in which participants bid on professional experiences and training with experts in an array of industries throughout the Greater Philadelphia Area, with all proceeds going towards local charities.
Instead of basking in the spotlight, Sylvia insisted upon having team members Adam Teterus and Neil Bardhan present to give a well-rounded overview of Philly Give & Get and what it’s like running a volunteer based organization in Philadelphia – because she has learned that you cannot do it on your own.
How would you summarize Philly Give & Get in just a few sentences?
Sylvia: Philly Give & Get is a charity date auction where attendees get the opportunity to hang out with someone awesome to learn to do something awesome while supporting something awesome all at the same time.
Teterus: It is a philanthroparty; a philanthroparty in which absolutely anyone can join and have some fun and donate a little bit of money (or a lot of money); have drinks with people they know very well or have drinks with people they would like to know very well; and realize, at the core, that they themselves can give back and be philanthropists. It’s a party in which all of us realize how much power we have to make a change and affect other people.
Bardhan: It’s an organization that provides experiences to interested parties who want to contribute emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and financially so that other individuals can have better experiences within the city.
Teterus: It’s kind of a way of redirecting funds from people who have some and want to gain experiences and skills and give back to the community. Sometimes when I describe it as a charity date auction to people, they don’t always understand. It’s about experiences. You are buying an experience or set of experiences that you might not have been able to get otherwise to learn a skill or trade you are interested in.
Where did the idea for Philly Give & Get come from?
Sylvia: The idea for Philly Give & Get was completely inspired and incubated at Indy Hall. 100%. If I weren’t a member here, Philly Give & Get wouldn’t exist. The idea stemmed from an experience in which I needed to learn SEO [Search Engine Optimization – ed.] for my current job. So, I tried to teach it to myself first [but] I just couldn’t find my way around it. I then posted on what was then BaseCamp for Indy Hall and is now Group Buzz: “Will trade fancy beers for SEO advice.” Immediately, three people responded. One of them, Nick Eubanks, was an integral part of starting Philly Give & Get. We sat down, opened my laptop, and he taught me the basics of SEO along the way for about an hour. It was a really good coeducational experience, and most importantly, it was honest. That was the most important part. It was authentic and it was honest. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything and it wasn’t one of my friends who I would feel badly about taking an hour to talk about work. It was the perfect mix of transactional elements that he was getting something – I was buying him ten dollar beers or what have you – and I was obviously gaining skills, but we were both leaving on a very satisfied and level playing field. So, the first seed of Philly Give & Get was kind of formed because I left leaving thinking, “How can I get more people to have an experience like this?” Being a member of Indy Hall is actually an amazing experience because members of Indy Hall will actually take the time and do that exact thing throughout the day because you are part of a community that is creating something together. But, if you’re not a member of Indy Hall or a similar organization or if you’re in another city, how would you recreate this experience on various levels and be able to learn these different skills?
Why Philadelphia? Why do you choose to stay in Philadelphia and why do you think Philly Give & Get thrives in this city?
Teterus: How much time do you have? I think there are an infinite amount of reasons to be in Philadelphia. I think Philadelphia has an incredible ratio that I don’t think I can compare to any other city in the United States in terms of quality of life and opportunities. We have the density of a city, but the space a very dense city does not have. We have an incredible culture that a nation was born into. The United States became the United States in Philadelphia. There are a lot of great examples of independence, independent people, and strong communities coming together to work towards a better end – and that’s the essence of Philly. We also have chronic underdog status in competing as a little brother with the other East Coast big cities, which puts us in a position to constantly strive as well as a little room to truly do something different. Philly never plateaus – we are always working to prove a point or make a difference. Philly Give & Get has to be here for that reason. The people we care about are here. They’re looking for mechanisms and skills to keep caring about one another and to learn to solve problems they didn’t know existed the day before. In that way, Philly Give & Get acts as a tool and offers momentum to people who really want to do something bigger than themselves.
Bardhan: I would also say that there’s a lot of mutual love, support, and respect in several communities within the city, which constantly work to everyone’s advantage. The makeup of the community of Philadelphia is diverse and feeds off of the creativity and support of each individual, which is essentially what Philly Give & Get has to offer.
Sylvia: While I moved to Philadelphia specifically for the program I went to school for, Philly has a nationally renowned philanthropic sector. There are numerous nonprofits doing cool stuff in Philadelphia that other cities look to emulate. It’s also an interesting city as far as the fact that we rely less on corporate support for nonprofits and more on individuals and community members. From Mural Arts to Project H.O.M.E., there are constant changes occurring to better the city, and a lot of these changes are actually being led by strong women, which is very important to me. There’s Jane Golden from Mural Arts, Siobhan Reardon from the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lisa Nutter, and so many more amazing women working in nonprofits and education. I’m not certain how Philadelphia evolved this way, but it is a city that accepts you to the point that you prove yourself, no matter who you are. If you show up and you do the work, then you are cool. And that’s what I love about this place. It’s not just putting big names on a board – everyone has a part if they want to participate and be involved. If you want to get involved, all you have to do is show up and do the work. If we want to have an event, we work and we have an event. Philly wanted to have a Tech Week and now we have a Tech Week that’s nationally renowned. Things are happening and there are challenges, but Philly’s drive is strong here and I love that. I mean, Philly is a brother city – the brotherly city – I don’t know if it is a big brother or a little brother city, but Philly’s going to razz you. You just have to razz it back.
What is the best feedback you have received about Philly Give & Get?
Sylvia: The best feedback we have received has not been direct feedback in its usual form. The fact is that there are so many beautiful tertiary relationships that are being built as a result of our efforts outside of the actual dates. While the experience with each of the experts has been helpful and valuable to each person who has won, the other relationships and networking opportunities that have occurred and grown from just attending the auctions and participating in outreach have been something very uniquely beautiful that has grown outside of our original intent.
Teterus: Yes, I would say that there have been several great working relationships that have developed further than what someone bid on, outside of just what someone won – more than the skills and trades originally advertised. They have developed into relationships and friendships between individuals who want to do the best and want our City to be the best every single day. I mean, that’s cool as hell. That’s the best feedback for what could have been just a simple donation to the charity. It’s incredible.
What has been the biggest criticism of your organization and how did you respond?
Sylvia: There is something wonderful and lots of things that are frustrating with being involved in and starting a volunteer run organization. One of the critiques we have received which is interesting and very valid actually occurred at the last auction that had an auction lot bid get up to $600 – $700 which is very high for an organization that has always said that philanthropy is for everyone. In my experiences, whenever I would go to other charity auctions, the coolest stuff would start at $1500 and always go to a board member, isolating those who want to give and don’t have the same means. As a result, one of Philly Give & Get’s core rules is that we always start the bidding at $20. So at the last auction, a lot of people felt priced out. However, I do feel that even if you don’t win the auction lot, by raising your hand you are committing to donate that amount of money and I think that that type of priming for beginning to feel comfortable giving is really important for the next generation of philanthropy.
Teterus: It’s definitely a Catch-22. We are all very excited to raise as much money as possible for the charity recipients – of course we want to do that. However, that’s not the centerpiece of Philly Give & Get. The centerpiece is that everyone can give. So, when we received that as feedback – that people still wanted to give, but couldn’t afford to, it actually was very beneficial to us and allowed us to grow. We reexamined the mission of Philly Give & Get and were forced to realize what it is we are actually working on doing and respond to that with different types of lots and group bidding.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and often follow?
Teterus: One of the most vital pieces of advice I have ever been given was actually recent and can be boiled down to the simple idea of “one brick at a time.” Don’t move a wall. Don’t build a wall. Just one brick at a time. As someone who works with other individuals in consulting various co-working spaces, it is easy to get overly ambitious and overzealous in terms of what we want to do. While it’s fantastic, you need to start small. Even if you share a conversation with one person, or connect to one person, that is something positive you have done that makes an impact. Every success stacks on top of one another and builds into something else one brick at a time. Do one small great thing and stack them up. It doesn’t take a lot of time before someone else wants to help.
Sylvia: I would say mine, especially in relation to Philly Give & Get, is that one of the hallmarks of a great leader is that they empower and create the avenue for other people to become great leaders. Something that is not in my natural state is the ability to let go and to accept others’ help, but it is definitely needed. At the first auction for Philly Give & Get, my mentality was that I was just going to do it myself because I didn’t want to burden anyone. My mentality was that it was your baby, your responsibility – if something goes wrong, it was on you. And this whole process of starting Give & Get has shown me that you can rely on others and the best result is produced when you work together. In fact, I’m not even organizing our next auction. Adam and Neil and the rest of the group are. I mean, it is our role and our mission for Philly Give & Get to empower others to help and always says “Yes, and?” – to really create those ongoing relationships and support networks for professional development. It is your job as a leader, whether you have taken that role naturally or it was given to you, is to not just do something for someone, but show them how to do it as well. Empowering someone is joining them in the trenches and walking them through it.
What are your final thoughts on Philly Give & Get as a whole?
Teterus: I would say that my final words are that everyone can contribute something. Philly Give & Get is for people who like to have fun. It’s for people who like to have drinks. It’s for people who like to give back. It’s for people who would like to see Philadelphia grow into a better and better place. It’s for people who like guacamole. It’s for cat people. It’s for dog people. It’s for everyone.
Sylvia: The word philanthropy and the idea of being a philanthropist – it is high time we hack that. It is high time we take the traditional roles of giving and make them user-centric and meet the people where they are. Philanthropy actually means love of humankind, and if that is not a big egalitarian thing, I don’t know what is. We’ve let the idea of philanthropy be co-opted into the thought that if you don’t give $5,000 a year, you’re not a philanthropist. If you don’t put on heels and pay $700 a ticket or plate, you’re not a philanthropist. If you’re not 55 or older, you’re not a philanthropist. And, those ideas are just not true. And, I am personally thrilled that Philly Give & Get, as a group, has been able to turn the idea of philanthropy back towards the general love of humankind and away from the formality and stereotype of philanthropy. At our next event, there will be drinks and there will be guac, but there will also be charity. And there will be philanthropy. And it will happen at the same time.
Philly Give & Get’s next event is a gaming themed multiplayer Philanthroparty at Lucha Cartel on May 8 from 7pm to 10pm and supports the Philadelphia Center for Arts & Technology (PCAT). I hear there will be guac.
For more information about Philly Give & Get, please visit: http://phillygiveandget.org/
Click here to buy tickets for the Philanthroparty on May 8.
Samantha Pearson is a Technical Writer working in West Philadelphia. In her spare time, she blogs, collects publishing rejection letters, and searches for Philly’s best Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @BlondeWords.