giving what we need
June 10, 2013

my friend kim’s mother tells this story about her early days as a philanthropist going door to door in jewish neighborhoods to collect the contents of charity boxes for the local jewish Federation to use to help jewish communities at home and abroad. because she was going door to door, many in the neighborhood saw she was coming and had their donations ready. one particular neighborhood  included a home just before the outskirts with weeds growing in front, peeling paint,  and two cracked windows taped with newspaper. kim’s mother wasn’t even sure anyone lived there, so she turned around to leave. she hadn’t taken too many steps before she heard an old woman’s voice:
Young lady, young lady?
Yes, Mam, good afternoon, she replied.
Aren’t you the lady from the Federation?
Yes, Mam, I am.
Well then, come on in. I have something for you.
kim’s mom entered the woman’s home. she was frail and limping. it was clear from the state of things she was in need of assistance. she offered kim’s mother a cup of tea. they chatted for awhile, and then the woman gave her a handful of coins for the Federation. kim’s mom thanked her and added them to the others.
that afternoon, when she returned to the Federation office, she gave them the woman’s address so they could send a member of jewish child and family services to her to ensure she received the assistance she needed.
this is what kim’s mom says– we both got what we needed through the act of giving that day.

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you, me + legacy: 3 pillars of giving
March 31, 2013

here’s a simple idea to begin mindful giving. it became clear to me through a conversation with my friend and fellow philanthropy maven, arlene that started on our drive to the beach and was still going on during the ride home two days later. it  borrows from the model of managing one’s  money (i learned it as a formula for what to do with money i receive as a windfall):  a third in savings, a third to pay off debt (if no debt-towards a major purchase), a third to spend in the present.

these are the three pillars of giving:  a third to the most urgent causes in your community (or globally), a third to causes you care about, a third to invest in a legacy.

the first two thirds are straight forward. they give you the opportunity to support both what is personal to you and to remove your ego from the equation, to give selflessly acknowledging yourself as merely a vessel for contributing to the greater good.

the goal of the final third, legacy, is to seed the future of philanthropy. if you have children you might use the final third of your donation funds to engage your children in choosing where and how much to distribute. If you have no children you might create a managed fund that annually supports both your choice of organization(s) and the current  pressing needs of society once you die. You might also support  one of the  youth philanthropy organization that teach teens philanthropy through practice making choices and donating as a group.

do no harm
March 10, 2012

there are girls who can’t afford to attend their prom.
a non-profit creates a contest for these girls.
the girls write an essay and get letters of recommendation to submit to the contest.
the winner gets a free prom dress, $500 towards her education, a free makeover for prom night, a ticket to the prom, a refurbished laptop and more.

my friend K rolls her eyes, well off white ladies, right?
right.
so these girls learn:
a. you have to out yourself and your family situation to total strangers who are better off than you about your poor pitiful but deserving state to have a chance to get out of it for the night
b. it’s a contest and only one girl is going to win and the rest are, well, losers (again)
c. nothing worth having doesn’t cost money or dignity
d. white people are definitely in control

and what does it say about the underlying beliefs of the folks at the non-profit that hold this contest?

one reason mindful giving matters is that sincerely well meaning people can give and make it worse.