Featured Philanthropists: Dana Popish and Erik Severinghaus

We’re kicking off our Why I Give featured philanthropist series with a paired interview, talking with Erik Severinghaus and Dana Popish. Erik is an entrepreneur in the technology industry, and the soon to be published author of Scale Your Everest, a book focused on mental resilience and how to use that to be a better entrepreneur. Dana is the acting Director for the Department of Insurance for the State of Illinois.

Dana: Someone gave me good advice when I was a young professional starting out– it’s important to find a charity or two of choice and really commit to it. I got involved with ChicagoCAC when I was 23 after attending the board’s annual Halloween party. I think when you’re in your early twenties you’re looking for a way to give back, but I didn’t have anything I was particularly attached to.

I was a lobbyist at the time and I was invited to be part of the government relations committee. As I became older and had more resources, I got involved in ChicagoCAC’s fundraising, and last year I joined our Advisory Board.  I think that the work the center does is great and it’s a great way to use my professional skills in a meaningful way to help ChicagoCAC out.

Erik: Candidly, up until 2-3 years ago I didn’t even know Children’s Advocacy Centers existed. Once I was exposed to the mission and its people, I was immediately on board. You would need to have a heart of stone to understand this organization’s mission and then not want to help children who have been betrayed and preyed upon by the adults in their life. In my book, this center is doing the definition of God’s work.

Dana introduced me to her work with ChicagoCAC and I’ve been a big fan ever since. I’ve always been a big believer that the mark of a society is the way they treat the least among them. The people that I think have the least agency—the least ability to control their own outcomes—are children. They’re often at the physical mercy of people more powerful than them, not to mention the psychological mercy. I don’t know if there’s a worthier cause that I could imagine than helping children.

As a donor, it’s also gratifying to know that CAC has a relatively small budget compared to other organizations. There’s a direct line we can see between a commitment of resources and an ability for CAC to sustain and grow its mission. It’s obvious that every dollar counts.

Dana: Recently, I was excited by this year’s holiday toy drive. Teenagers are always the last ones who get supported in drives like these and the hardest to shop for, so we did a gift card drive. After reaching out to our friends and family, we raised a mind-blowing amount of money, despite how the pandemic’s hit so many people in the wallet. I was so touched that so many people were so supportive that I cried.

Erik: How many gift cards did you wind up getting, Dana?

Dana: Hundreds.

Erik: For a long time, I thought that “philanthropy” was only something that really rich people do. What I’ve learned, through my work with Dana for ChicagoCAC, is that it’s not about that. It’s much more about reaching out to our network of friends and family and making them aware that this cause was something we felt strongly about.

And for the Toy Drive, reaching out paid off. We got hundreds and hundreds of gift cards. Dana literally had to go store to store to store because you couldn’t buy that number of gift cards at any single store. That experience? It really reinforced in my mind that it’s about caring, it’s about going out and being willing to use the time, energy, social capital that we all accumulate over the course of our lives for a good cause.

Want to tell your own donor story, and possibly be featured in an upcoming newsletter? Reach out to ebesmann@chicagocac.org!

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