PHOTO: Mentor Arlene Cogen, left, and Sarah Howard connect at a gathering of PDX Pathways, a networking and mentoring group for young professionals. Sarah says, “Arlene’s impact on me as a mentor was huge.”
Who says you can’t buy happiness? Drawing on the neuroscience of giving and her own experiences in philanthropy, Arlene Cogen knows “money can buy happiness if you give it to a cause you care about.”
Arlene and her husband, Mitch, and daughters, Alana and Abrielle (Abby), moved to Portland 19 years ago and joined Congregation Neveh Shalom. Alana is now a junior at Portland State University studying communications; Abby is a sophomore at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo studying sociology.
A certified financial planner, philanthropic leadership consultant, speaker and trainer, Arlene worked 20+ years in the trust and investment world before transitioning to the nonprofit world to fulfill her desire to give back. While working at the Oregon Community Foundation, she saw how charitable giving enriched many donors.
Community Foundation, she saw how charitable giving enriched many donors. Her favorite story is of a doctor who worked near the foundation and walked in one day to find out what a community foundation does. “Intrigued, she would stop in to learn more a couple of times a year,” says Arlene. The woman eventually decided to create a step-up advised fund, which allows the giver to contribute to their fund until it reaches fund minimums and they can recommend grants. “You should have seen her when she came in eight years later with the last donation to reach the fund minimum. She was smiling ear to ear like a Cheshire cat. Her family was with her to celebrate the moment. They were excited too. … You could feel her excitement and hear her words of happiness and satisfaction.”
Arlene says she learned tzedakah at the kitchen table from her parents, Ada and Abraham Siegel, z”l. “My parents always gave of their time and resources,” she says.
Sharing a story about her mother taking her along to deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly in the community brought Arlene to tears. “As we drove around, she described each individual we were delivering meals to – a veteran, a widow; many times we were the only connection that person would see during the week. They were so delighted to see my mom, and when she brought and introduced me, I could see the sparkle in their eyes. … That brief moment meant so much to them.”
“My father’s wisdom was be kind, work hard and be grateful,” says Arlene. “I have more than I ever imagined. It is a pleasure to give.”
Using Arlene’s inheritance from Ada, the family created a donor-advised fund. “The conversations we had with our daughters, Alana and Abby, when we opened the fund were enlightening. We learned from them. The learning continues as we grant money to organizations doing great work in our community. It is amazing. It brings us closer together as a family.”
Arlene has been a generous donor of her time as well as her money. Her volunteer efforts earned her a National Leadership Award from Hadassah and a Jewish Women’s Roundtable Song of Miriam Award for her work with Kol Ishah, the local Hadassah young women’s group.
Recently she served as a mentor in the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s leadership development/mentoring program, PDX Pathways. Arlene’s passion is fostering deep relationships, engaging the next generation, and making a lasting difference through leadership and philanthropy. As a mentor she seems to have brought that to life.
Nadine Astrakhan, who was recently hired as federation’s development associate, says, “Arlene’s passion for philanthropy really lined up with my personal aspirations. … Although I had little money to give at the time, I had lots of hours to donate to various causes and organizations, and Arlene was able to encourage that.”
Shayna Sigman says, “What makes Arlene a great mentor is not only her wealth of knowledge, but the warmth and caring that she brings to each individual.”
Arlene shares more stories and gives advice in her book due out this month. She calls Give To Live: Make a Charitable Gift You Never Imagined “a love story about your finances, taking care of family and making a difference. It is a guide about how to make giving, or philanthropy, a meaningful and rewarding part of your life. … Learn how family situations that appear to present insurmountable obstacles can be transformed to priceless gifts for both the donors and recipients.”