It only took one conversation for Johanna Mahal to be hooked. A friend of her husband David introduced Johanna to Isabelle Finney, VP of Philanthropy at Opportunity, in the Fall of 2019. They sat down for coffee and by the end of their meeting, she had decided to pilot Opportunity’s first Donor Trust Group in the U.S.
To be fair, Johanna had a connection with Opportunity from her days as a cabi clothing stylist, thanks to cabi and Opportunity’s long-standing partnership. But she hadn’t dug into the mission until she learned about the DTG idea. In fact, philanthropy in general was a somewhat daunting territory at first.
“It was overwhelming to me,” she reflects. “How do you choose what to give to, how do you vet it? What’s a good cause and what’s not a good cause? Opportunity International was clearly a good place for us to put our money in as a philanthropic endeavor.”
The new Donor Trust Group concept was inspired by years of witnessing the way Opportunity Trust Groups thrive because of the relationships, trust, and support they experience in their communities. We wanted donor communities to experience that same bond—while also growing their impact—by selecting an Opportunity program to fund over a three-year period.
“I realized that I could make a significant change by pooling $5,000 a year with other families—and in doing so, we’d also grow together as human beings,” she says. Johanna and her husband David have aggregated nine other families to be a part of the Silicon Valley Group. “One of our members said, ‘We never imagined how fulfilling it would be to give our money away!’ That’s how we feel; yes we’re going to give up something, but we’re choosing to have a little less, and guess what—we’re finding more money to give.”
A bonus of the Donor Trust Group structure is the ability to incorporate their children into the experience.
“We are modeling, through our enthusiasm, what philanthropy can look like from a young age, in a very tangible way for our children,” says Johanna, whose 9-year-old son William was very involved in selecting their project.
Once pandemic restrictions lift, the group will meet in-person quarterly to stay in touch about the project, engage their kids with a related activity, get to know each other better, and build their community. “We’re excited to have our kids grow up together,” she says. At the end, the families—kids included—plan to travel to Africa to see their project in person.
Her experience putting together and leading the group so far has been so rewarding that she’s volunteered to be the Donor Trust Group Lead for the country to help advise and assist other groups as they start forming.
“It’s easier than you think to be involved!” she says. Of course, Johanna’s social nature and leadership experience made her perfect to lead this pilot effort. “I enjoy connecting people, that’s fills my bucket,” she says. “I also enjoy seeing the fruits of that by having new friendships form. My hope is that a portion of each group will go on to start their own group when their project is up. We are just planting the seeds right now for the first ‘crop’!”
Special thanks to Johanna and the rest of the Silicon Valley Donor Trust Group for leading the way in this exciting chapter for Opportunity.