It all began at a 504ward Dine Around in December of 2008. LaToria Willis, Manager of Donor Relations at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, was seeking a way to get more young professionals engaged with organized philanthropy, and discussed the concept with local attorney Morgan Williams. He liked the idea, and the two decided to start a giving circle, recruiting seven others to be part of the initial “Young Professional Giving Circle” Steering Committee.

The Steering Committee met over a period of six months to develop a program from scratch – including raising operating funds, researching best practices from giving circles across the country, developing a curriculum and recruiting 18 brave people to participate in the pilot class. After one late night meeting huddled over pizza, the group decided to call itself “The Crescent Civic Engagement Fund” – and the program was officially born.

The pilot class of 18 members created two teams focused on awarding grants in education and economic development. Through an RFP process, the pilot class distributed $18,000 in grants to four area nonprofits.

After two successful classes, the organization renamed itself in 2011. Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO) was formed with the intent of better identifying the organization’s mission. Working off of the model that had been developed by the steering committee, EPNO classes navigate the philanthropic process together in teams. Each class receives training from local experts, reviews letters of intent and grant proposals, conducts site visits and ultimately determines where to donate their funds.

Over the years EPNO has become a model of philanthropic development in the city. The organization is run by a completely volunteer based advisory board and committee, who work tirelessly to further EPNO’s mission. To date, over 298 class members and alumni have donated over $311,050 to 63 local nonprofits focusing on areas such as crime & public safety, youth development, housing, women’s issues, health care, the environment and the arts, among others. In 2015, the board decided to expand the program to 50 participants. In 2016, we partnered with Ripple Effect to create an EPNO 201 for specifically for EPNO Alumni. We look forward to sharing the success of this year’s class and those yet to come.