Five Reflections on Philanthropy Formed Over 20 Years

Reflections on Philanthropy

I feel very fortunate to have had a long relationship with philanthropy. The last 20 years, in particular, have been full of reflections on the industry and my role in it.

Working in this field is uplifting and instructive, and my day-to-day encounters have only added to the realization that philanthropy has a central and positive place in our society.

Among the musings I’ve pondered during my travels in and around philanthropy, five themes keep recurring:

Philanthropy is Personal

Technology may speed up tasks and donations, and websites, FAQs and online chats can provide information quickly, but make no mistake—that’s simply how we deliver philanthropy; it’s not the why. The why of philanthropy is genuinely personal. The tug on each of us is different, almost always from an individual story or experience; a disease touches us; or the ache of suffering animals; the woe of other humans; the injustice of an event or a war. We can be warmed by simple gratitude for a task done well and with a smile. Your obsession and motive for philanthropy are as important to you as are mine to me.

Philanthropy is Simple

At its core, philanthropy is about people helping people. That’s it. Yes, assorted funding sources enable charity, sometimes from government grants, from the business world, and to a large degree from the sharing of personal wealth. However, the bottom line is that organizations are not resolving our societal challenges—we are. Two people connecting, engaging with others, and leading teams of people and organizations to solve the troubles in our neighborhoods, communities, and society as a whole.

Philanthropy is Complex

In the U.S. alone, the number of individuals receiving help from the more than 1.5 million charities is incalculable. More than 10% of the US population depends on the non-profit sector for a paycheck, benefits, and general well-being. There are numerous ways to engage, share, and to give—often captured in the notions of “time, treasures, talents, and social ties.” Giving conduits and donor incentives abound, immediate and deferred tax benefits encourage giving, and annuities and trusts pay you to be philanthropic. Our preferences and differences inform how we rank what’s important in our personal charity. And there are ever-changing tactics being created to encourage and support philanthropy. Seeing and appreciating the threads of the big charity tapestry can be formidable.

Philanthropy is Important

A broad spectrum of charitable missions must be enabled and people empowered to connect with others to deliver the services and products that improve the daily quality of life on this planet. Alone, government and for-profit businesses can’t address the countless matters that need our help.

Philanthropy is Impactful

Philanthropy makes a difference—to individuals, to communities, to our health, to our environment, and even to our own psyches. The consequences are seen when one community is rebuilt after a disaster, a meal is offered to the homeless, a disease is cured, a family member is eased through their final months by hospice, a veteran is fitted with a limb lost from war, or an innocent person is freed from jail. Those all take action by people, and each of those discreet touches flows to others and causes a wider impact—like ripples of connections that can turn into waves.

My journey in philanthropy has been erratic, an experience I’m sure many of us share. It ebbed and flowed as the daily pressures of my business and personal needs moderated, but I’ve found it always comes back to the same themes: it is simple and personal — people being good to other people, society supporting those who share with others, and communities showing empathy to help lift those who need a bit of care.

That’s what grounds me, along with realizing that:

People come into our lives for a reason… I believe I have been changed for the better, and because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

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