Philanthropy: the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.


Every day in October I am going to give away $100 cash to someone I encounter during the course of my day. Starting October 1 I will tell the story of each day’s “giveaway”. In the meantime I am hoping these random thoughts will continue to spark discussion of issues around money and giving.

Do you have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist? What does it mean to be generous? If you are following this blog, chances are you are generous, a giver of money and therefore a philanthropist. Right? Do you see yourself that way? There was an interesting article in our local newspaper today about the shifting demographics and priorities of philanthropists in our community and it got me thinking.

I started seeing myself as a philanthropist about ten years ago when we began a yearly ritual of sitting down during Chanukah to make some family decisions about our giving for the year. Choosing a target percentage of our income (between 7% and 10%, depending on circumstances), we add up everything we have donated since the beginning of the year and what we still have to give. We always have an overinflated idea of how much we have actually given up to that point. Everyone has a chance to advocate for their “cause” and the kids always had a say in the process when they were at home (which is how it turns out we are on the mailing list of “Save the Tigers”).

Giving in this way allows me to make a statement about the kind of world I want to live in. It gives me a sense of meaning and consistency. I want to live in a world where people get the help they need when they are sick, so we give to a number of free clinics. No one goes hungry in this world, so we give to local food pantries. People should be shielded from the impact of natural disasters, so (not knowing what else to do) we write a check to Haiti Relief. I want to honor and encourage my friends and family, so I support their good work. In my dream world everyone has an equal opportunity to be healthy and prosperous, so we give in a way that I hope levels the playing field a tiny bit. I want my world to be filled with beautiful things but these days that kind of feels like a luxury. Sometimes someone I know well needs help and I realize how meaningless it would be to direct all my giving to strangers and turn away from my neighbor. But maybe I give less than I should, and maybe I do it somewhat reluctantly.

So, what am I saying with this month of hundreds about the kind of world I want to live in? I want to live in a world where wonderful and unexpected things happen and where things don’t always have to make perfect sense. In this world, a small gift can change a life. In this world, no one is invisible and my eyes are wide open.

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