Living Philanthropic

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 1st, 2011 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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Living philanthropic—something to which we should all aspire, and something which is within everyone’s means.  There are those who inspire and those that leave us with a big thud.  As we launch into 2011, I challenge us all to be inspirational.

In October of this year, Forbes magazine published an interview with Warren Buffet and Jay-Z, an unlikely pair that apparently hit it off—once each got past his nervousness!  They talked about business and philanthropy.  Buffet, true to his beliefs, recognized that his area of expertise was not distributing charitable dollars and so he “turned it over to a specialist.”

Jay-Z, on the other hand, still young in his philanthropic career, chose to start by replicating his experience:  paying homage to the sixth-grade teacher who recognized something special in him(when he was Shawn Carter), he started the Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund to give other children an opportunity.   Different in approach, both agree that philanthropy is about teaching—leading by example and giving time to make a difference.  It is about inspiring—inspiring others to reach potential, inspiring others to follow suit, inspiring others to enrich our communities for all.

There are so many examples out there to inspire us—from the large to the medium to the small.

Marcos Lopez, owner of eXude benefits, a small business in Philadelphia offering total benefits solutions and identified by several sources as one of the best places to work , shares that sentiment, stating “I feel strongly about giving back to the community that we live in and that supports us.”  Acting on that commitment, eXude will donate just under $100,000 to charities this year, and countless hours of donated time.  Not sufficient, Marcos has his eye on giving 10 times that much down the road.

Subaru will donate up to $5 million to charities just through its “Share the Love” program.  In case you’ve missed the ads, between November 20, 2010 and January 3, Subaru gives a donation of $250 to one of five charities selected by the buyer of a new Subaru.  And that doesn’t count its charitable giving that goes on throughout the year.

Carlo Garcia, a 28-year old “regular joe” from Chicago, as he says on his blog site Living Philanthropic is proving his mother’s axiom that “you can do so much with so little.”  He’s an aspiring actor and artist who is past the 2/3 mark in making one charitable donation each day for a whole year, having given just under $3000 (last time i checked) most in gifts of $5 and $10.  His blog chronicles his giving, telling you who, why and how much he gave, as well as telling you how much he’s inspired other to give as well.

Then there are the students from kindergarten through high school who donate the images of their art (but keep the original) to Fresh Artists, a nonprofit in Philadelphia.  Fresh Artists, with the rights to the artwork, sells the artwork—blown up to whatever size fits the space needs–to corporations around the region to decorate their walls.  It then uses the proceeds to buy materials for art teachers in Philadelphia’s public schools—to use in the very classrooms that produce the young artists and philanthropists.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of the shapes and sizes, creative and not, of philanthropy that happens every day of the year and that should inspire us all  Most of it, fortunately or not, goes unsung.  But then, that is not why most philanthropists do what they do.

There are, however, some philanthropists who do use philanthropy to garner attention, improve perception, etc, perhaps not in whole, but clearly in part.  Most, if not all, nonprofits would be just as happy to accept this money as that which comes from individuals and organizations who give because they know it is the right thing to do; after all, the money is just as good though the story hardly inspiring.  So, Goldman Sachs Group gets kudos for giving $212 million to 1,100 charities from its Goldman Sachs Gives fund, a fund financed by the requirement that partners give a percentage of their income to nonprofits; however, they get praise here.  Required behavior, by its very nature, does not instill nor inspire.

Then there are foundations.  Pablo Eisenberg recently admonished foundations to give more than the mandatory minimum of 5%, noting that giving 6% or even 8% would not cause foundations to close, though failure to receive those extra thousands of dollars could cause nonprofits to go out of business.  In June of this year, Foundation Source, which supports donor led and family foundations, reported that almost 63% of its more than 900 members exceeded the mandatory minimum giving level in 2009.  Sounds good, but there were 120,810 private foundations in the United State as of April 2010, and I don’t know what the other 119,000 plus did.

And then there are those who should be ashamed to bring any attention to their philanthropic activities.  The Philadelphia Phillies (and I hate writing this as I do love the Phillies and Cliff Lee), within a week of announcing  that they were bringing Cliff Lee back to Philadelphia, for $120 million five years, received very noticeable media attention for their holiday charitable activity.  The front office, as it has for the last ten years, prepared and served food at a homeless center for a few hours;  by some accounts, they also brought a $10,000 check.  A look at their website indicates that their charitable activity throughout the year is limited to in-kind donations.  (Nothing here should take away from the individual philanthropic activities of Phillies players, such as Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer , Shane Victorino and more.  I am only talking about the Phillies Corporation.)  Really, Phillies?

We all have the responsibility to make our communities and their members strong, healthy, and vibrant.  Many of us exercise our philanthropy individually, every day of our lives; many corporations make it part of their ethos.  Now, those of us who are doing it must take on yet one more responsibility:  to teach and inspire others to do so as well.  Add to your 2011 “to do” list one more thing:  creating a philanthropist.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.