Twenty-two years ago I stumbled into the profession of fundraising, beginning as a special events director and progressing to corporate and foundation grant-writing. In that time I have helped to secure all kinds of gifts: the most unusual being a quart of bull semen (for an agricultural college), and the most impressive being a $5 million grant from a major philanthropic organization.
What is it that makes a person or an organization philanthropic? Last fall I attended a national conference of the nonprofit-slash-independent-slash-third sector in which the president of a foundation described her interaction with a tribe of Native Americans. Members of the tribe expressed their desire to contribute to the project the foundation was funding on their reservation. With unwitting condescension came the reply, “Oh, that’s not necessary.”
Indignant, one of the tribe shot back, “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we have nothing to give.”
Literally translated the word philanthropy means “love of humanity.” Can you place a value on love? Is the Native American’s dollar worth less than the foundation’s millions when both work to relieve suffering, increase knowledge, or contribute to the beautification of the environment? If you measure love by the sacrifice made, I submit that the one has much greater value than the million.
Throughout the 18 years of our married life, my wife and I have budgeted 10 percent of our income for charitable purposes. Our combined income has steadily increased, and although it is still shy of six figures we are regularly moved to give beyond 10 percent. Earlier this year we learned of a project to support AIDS orphans in Africa. For $32 a month we could provide food, water, and shelter to one orphan. I resisted. “We already give so much. The transmission in our 12-year-old minivan could go out any day! How will we survive?”
Then the mortgage company sent notice that our escrow account was over-funded; our new monthly house payments would be $30 less than they were last year. We can provide for the orphan and not even feel the pinch. It is therefore no sacrifice at all. On the contrary, it feels good!
My feelings are validated by recent research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which found that giving to charity stimulates “the same brain mechanisms that evoke pleasurable sensations after sex, eating good food, and using heroin or other drugs.”
Far out, man!
Philanthropy is not reserved for the super rich Buffets, Gateses, and Winfreys of the world. Why should they have all the fun? Even the bull enjoyed making his contribution.
Philanthropy is for everyone. T H I S I B E L I E V E .
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