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10 December 2007

Your Philanthropic Autobiography: An exercise in the personal impact of charity.[More:]

A speaker led this exercise at the seminar I mentioned here in kyleg's thread, and then we all compared results. What an eye-opener. Most of us hadn't realized the degree to which other people's charitable gifts have made a difference in our own lives. We don't often think of ourselves as participants in philanthropy or recipients of charity, yet we all are both, in some way or another.

And actually as we were taking the quiz, I was all like 'OMG I have to post this on MetaChat.' Thanks kyleg for the memory-kicker.

So here's the quiz.

1. What was your earliest experience of philanthropy and/or volunteerism?

2. What are some ways you or your family have benefited from philanthropy?

3. Who are some philanthropic role models that influence your life and giving?

4. How did you become interested in working in the independent sector? [Obviously everyone in the room at thise seminar did, but I thought I'd include it here. Maybe for MetaChat purposes we can ask those who work in the private sector or are otherwise occupied 'have you ever considered working for a nonprofit, and if so, what might you choose?')
1. I have a crappy memory for my childhood (I mean, my childhood was happy, I just don't remember very much from it), so I'm guessing my earliest experience is not the same as my earliest memory, but the earliest one that comes to mind is volunteering as a summer counselor for kids at a nature day-camp in the summer before eighth grade. The earliest time I think I actually felt much reward for volunteering was helping with Christmas tree recycling in high school; our environmental club ran it at the school, and my dad would also come out and help and it was nice to spend the time with him, and to smell the trees as they went through the chipper.

Which actually brings up a vague early-childhood memory of helping sell Christmas trees with my father at some point. (We were in the Indian Princesses program and I'm guessing there was a great deal of volunteering associated with that that I just don't remember.)

2. My father used to donate his time to interview applicants for Harvard, and I remember spying on the high school students who showed up at our door in their best clothes and treated my father with such respect. (Hmm, maybe that's my earliest experience with volunteering, but at the time it seemed too "official" to be a volunteer thing.) I'm guessing this donation of time to the university (as well as his having gone there) helped me get in, though I truthfully don't think that was a factor in his doing it -- he really felt he got a lot from Harvard and wanted to give back a bit. My family also spent a lot of time going to Chicago's great museums when I was young, which I think has greatly influenced my intellectual & emotional development, and I doubt that any of those organizations could have existed without philanthropic contributions.

3. Still working on that one... I'm spotty about contributions, both of money and of time. What does stick in my mind is Suze Orman saying that the times when the most richness came into her life were those times when she donated to causes she believed in, even if she didn't have much money; I certainly believe in the concept that you have to give in order to receive, but that was the first time I had heard applied as a financial policy, and there was something refreshingly pragmatic and honest about it that I liked.

4. I try, in all my jobs, to find companies that are doing good in the world. I got severely disillusioned with my former job when it shifted from "Let's help kids" to "Let's make money," and (poor) decisions started to be made based on that shift. I am currently working in philanthropy, and it's nice to be working with people who are funding those who are doing good; it's a bit of a remove, however, and it sets up some weird dynamics. If I were going to do this long-term, I think I'd probably want to find more hands-on non-profit work.
posted by occhiblu 10 December | 12:14
Just a note about Harvard- aside from the volunteer efforts of your family, you benefited from its programs, which are in large part a result of giving. The place would not be Harvard without charitable giving - it has the largest endowment of any educational organization in the U.S.

In our exercise, everyone came to the sudden realization that their own colleges, professors, programs, and facilities were largely supported by alumni donations and grant funds.
posted by Miko 10 December | 12:21
The place would not be Harvard without charitable giving - it has the largest endowment of any educational organization in the U.S.

Oh, yes! True. Same, I'm assuming, for the university I'm currently at, and since it's a religiously affiliated school, then add in all the giving to the church as well. (And also tax breaks to both the church and to educational institutions, which I think of as government philanthropy.)
posted by occhiblu 10 December | 12:28
1. I assume that by "experience" you mean memory - so probably my first memory is of planting trees on Earth Day with my first grade class. Everyone got a half-dozen white pine saplings and we were supposed to go home and plant them somewhere. I grew up in a dense, swampy forest, though, so I think the exercise was a little lost on me.

2. I constantly benefit from philanthropy - every day, in fact. Since I quit my job to work part-time in Michigan and go to grad school in Chicago, I've stayed on a different couch nearly every night for the past 18 months. It boggles my mind - how many people have been willing to say, "Sure, you can crash at my place," day after day after day. There's no way I would be able to afford this lifestyle if I had to pay rent.

3. Probably my single greatest role model is Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest and peace activist. For me, philanthropy is a religious matter, and I believe the highest form of philanthropy is a complete surrender of one's life to the redeeming work of the beatitudes. This means that every action we take functions in a two-fold manner - first, that it drives us closer to the poor (downward mobility), secondly, that it in some way serves the poor. Seeing as this is primarily a religious pursuit, I don't know that it's applicable in the secular or non-profit world - I certainly understand that this sort of life-style is neither practical nor desirable for the vast majority of people, furthermore, it doesn't fit the "call" that we have each received. John Dear also talks about disarmament. He spent 10 months in prison for banging on a fighter jet with a hammer in an effort to "drive swords into plowshares." I view this time spent behind bars as sacrifice to draw attention to the devastating power of our nations nuclear arsenal.
I suppose what I'm getting at is that for me, money is only one small aspect of philanthropy. As it stands, we choose between our money or our life, and I kind of loathe money so I'm happy to give my life instead.

4. I moved from advertising sales, to non-profit development, to Christian outreach development. For me, the first step was difficult but the second was fairly straight-forward. When I worked in non-profit I was a regional development officer for Junior Achievement. I became very frustrated very quickly with this organization. They were attracted to me because I was interested in non-profit and had a business background. I was interested because I thought it would give me an opportunity to support entrepreneurial education in the inner cities. I was quite wrong. The majority of the funds were diverted to JA Worldwide - sort of the spearhead for neo-con / globalization training for children in third-world countries. Pretty sinister stuff. Thankfully, I had a profound religious experience that pretty much forced me to quit that job and give my life over to the church. As a liberal, this was a very difficult proposal - I had always been a "devout" agnostic. Nevertheless, I found a seminary, a denomination and a church that was committed, foundationally, to social justice. Been profoundly happy ever since!
posted by baby_balrog 10 December | 12:45
1. My dad was an assistant manager for Kmart and one year, he decided that all of us should participate in the March of Dimes walk that the company was a sponsor for. I don't really remember much of that event except for the fact that I think Mom really hated the walking part and we got free T-shirts. We did it the one year, and then my dad maybe did it by himself for the years after that.

And every kid of middle school age in my area was mad for participating in the school's candy sales to raise money because if you sold 12 boxes, you got a free trip to either Knott's Berry Farm or Disneyland. I vividly remember both trips because of the boys I had crushes on who I got to sit next to.

2. When I was bedridden in a children's hospital as a kid for a week, I got a free Barbie as a gift. Knowing what I know now about charities like Child's Play, I imagine that the hospital had a few toys like that stashed away somewhere to give out to kids who had long stays.

3. Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade. No joke. I want to build my own philanthropic/non-profit organization and have it be as successful as their someday.

And btw, Child's Play and the CBLDF are my charity/causes of choice.

4. It was after Kelly died. I really hate the fact that she touched so many people's lives in such a positive way and yet her legacy is so small compared to other people whose only claim to fame is that they were lucky enough to be born into rich families and could then continue a philanthropic legacy (yes, I'm looking at you, zombie!Brooke Astor). That's part of the reason why I'm really frustrated with life right now. I want to start up a Foundation in her name to benefit the causes she championed, but I can't do that when I'm so fucking broke and can't even get my own damn finances together.

Anyway... carry on...
posted by TrishaLynn 10 December | 12:50
Yes! Child's Play - what a fantastic charity. Thanks for bringing it up... it's almost Christmas and I need to put them in my family letter.
posted by baby_balrog 10 December | 12:55
I give to winos a lot.
posted by jonmc 10 December | 13:22
I kind of loathe money

I'll admit that I like money. I'll hustle harder for a customer who I think or know is a good tipper than I will for one who I know isn't. (Weirdly, the homeless/street guys I deal with are better about kicking you a few bucks when they make a big score than other people). But I try to be kind, shooting the breeze with the homeless guys instead of instinctively recoiling like so many do, helping them out with their boxes etc.
posted by jonmc 10 December | 13:30
1. I remember discovering one of those "Sponsor A Child" things in my father's study when I was little. I was so impressed that they were doing that and then since I was so small, I sort of thought it meant that I had a sister in some other country and I was all excited. Then, later, my mother was a docent at the Gibbes museum in Charleston. But we were always somewhat involved in museums; some of my earliest memories are of going to museums and zoos and loving them so much.

2. Philanthropy pays my salary and has actually paid for my whole career minus the four months I mistakenly left the nonprofit sector. So good for you philanthropy! Yay! Pity you can't stretch to paying me a bit more, but, well, that's cool.

3. I don't know if I have role models so much as I have ANTI role models. I have kind of a jaundiced view of philanthropy, rich people and giving. This is unfortunate, given my career, I grant you. Still. I admire people who take on one charity and really devote money and time to it - museums couldn't function without people like that. But I get mad - I really don't understand, if you can afford big shiny new things and huge houses and all that crap why you can't simplify your life and give a LOT more. Studies that show that the poor consistently give a higher percentage of their income than the wealthy make me angry as hell. Yeah, I don't like conspicuous consumption, status symbols, people who only give to see their name on a donor wall, people who only give after the third glass of "free" wine at the opening - etc. I'm afraid I've poured one too many glasses of wine for one too many wealthy, nasty ladies in my life. But at least they're giving something. I just wish they'd give more or more consistently. As for me, when I have money, I give to Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and some local stuff - Manna Food Bank, etc. Interestingly enough, I work in the arts and I believe that they're important, but, given the hierarchy of needs and my own terribly limited dollars for donations, I don't usually give to the arts. Anyway, I can only give about $100 or so a year.

4. How did I end up in nonprofits? I have a degree in studio art and art history - want fries with that? ;-) Actually, it's always been very important to me to work well outside the "military-industrial complex" and back in the idealistic 80s, that's how I started in the nonprofit world. It's still important. Maybe what I do - keeping museums running - isn't wildly important in the grand scheme of things but on the other hand almost every day some kid comes in here and looks at a mammoth tooth and a huge fossil trilobite and gets that look on their face, that mind blown I Have Discovered Something Cool look and really, at the end of the day, that makes it worth it. There's a world in each museum and I've been lucky enough to hold the keys to several and privileged enough to see that look on many, many faces over the years. That, to me, makes the lousy salary and the occasionally atrocious hours and the endless freaked out meetings (god. Why, oh why, do museums have to have meetings for every single little tiny thing in the world?) worth it.
posted by mygothlaundry 10 December | 14:04
To expound on that a moment longer (thus putting off some of the smooth running of this museum, oh dear) you know that doctrine of At least, cause no harm? That's been the keynote in some ways of my career. What I do does not hurt anyone. I am not making weapons; I am not, even tangentially, involved in the world of blood and suffering and death or even, really, for all the lobbying we do, politics. Maybe it helps, maybe not, but all in all I can leave at the end of the day and think, nothing I have done has added to the sum total of misery in the world. Perhaps I have ameliorated it a little, even. Maybe that one child who just saw a mummy for the first time is going to stay in school and become an Egyptologist, maybe that one kid who now knows about the Mohr's Scale is going to go on and become an environmental geologist and help save the world and maybe even that older lady who just saw her first Wolf Kahn and misted up with the beauty of it has had a better day thanks to us. Small steps, but important.
posted by mygothlaundry 10 December | 14:13
I don't know if I have role models so much as I have ANTI role models. I have kind of a jaundiced view of philanthropy, rich people and giving. This is unfortunate, given my career, I grant you.

Oh, yes, yes, YES! Remember that recent story about that guy who when he died, he gave away BILLIONS to charity, while leaving only enough behind for his family to live comfortably, and had enough to pay off the stupid estate taxes and lawyer's fees as well? And while he was still alive, he was also doing things like that, but anonymously? And there was a story about a homeless lady he met who when he asked her what she really wanted, she said, "A new wagon (to carry the cans I recycle for cash) would be nice." So he bought her one?

I assure you, when I become rich and famous, I will not be one of those pricks. I'll be pouring my own glasses of wine from behind the table right there with you, MGL.
posted by TrishaLynn 10 December | 14:32
"3. Who are some philanthropic role models that influence your life and giving?"

The Two Ten Footwear Foundation. Except for educational assistance, Two Ten help traditionally doesn't come with a name tag. Although it's become more organized and professionally visible in recent years, thousands of people helped by Two Ten really never knew they have been.

I came to know Two Ten because of my association with its gruff old Italian chairman for the Mid-Atlantic Region, for years, "Joe D." Like a humanitarian postman, in all kinds of weather, Joe D. used to show up at every golf tournament, monthly Superintendent's Dinner, shoe show and footwear industry event, from Batavia, NY to Hagerstown, MD and make the rounds, spoutin' cigar smoke, and crackin' old jokes. His opening line and personal greeting was always "Shut up and give, already." or, "Gimme. Not for me."

And they would, and I sure as hell did. Line foreman would reach in their pockets, and put a sawbuck in Joe D.'s hand. Plant superintendents might write a check, and stuff it in his breast pocket. Knowin' Joe D. cost me $20 or $50 more weeks than it didn't, but he was right in sayin' that I'd "only miss it a little while" more often than not. He was welcomed in board rooms, and looked for in bar rooms. If you asked about a hard case anywhere in his 6 state region, Joe D. could give you personal news, because when he wasn't helping us do the right thing, he was stopping at bed sides, bailing folks out of jail, looking up college kids away from home at school, and walking around shoe factories, making his living selling adhesives and machinery, but always doing something to help someone in the shoe and allied trades, directly, every day.

Half the people in the Lehigh Valley thought Joe D. was "connected." But he'd really learned shoe making in the old country, and came over in '27, when his father and a couple other guys brought over what became known as "the Compo process" for manufacturing women's shoes. He could do any job in any footwear plant, about as well any worker could. If you had an opening in your plant for any job from a line foreman level on up, you told Joe D. And if somebody called you about a job, and said Joe D. told him to call, you always interviewed the person, and 98 times in 100, you gave 'em the job, because of that recommendation. He could've probably told you about 7,000 or 8,000 families in eastern New York State and Pennsylvania, who split people between coal mines, steel mills, railroads and shoe factories, from personal memory.

Upwards of 3000 people tried to attend his funeral in Allentown. "99% of 'em probably won't even know what the 'D.' stands for." he joked, all his later years, in advance anticipation of that day. And that was probably true, but they came.

It was D'Angelo. Giuseppe A. D'Angelo was what was printed on his Form 1040, which I had the privilege of handing him, for a few years, in the early '80's. Great guy, the likes of which we see no more, and miss, always.
posted by paulsc 10 December | 14:45
Foolproof cheese fondue recipes? || No MeFi :(