I had the opportunity to speak with a lovely group of women on Whidbey Island this month. They were interested in integrating some philanthropy into their monthly meetings with each other, and I was keen to test drive some of my retreat work. There were a lot of moments of clarity for me as we sat around the kitchen table and talked about our ability to give. Several of the women expressed frustration that although they provided for their own families and friends, were raising good kids, and volunteered in the community, they were strapped for any additional funds to be a ‘real philanthropist’.
It actually reminded me a bit of a recent Seattle Times article regarding Amazon and their lack of notable charity in the area. Jeff Bezos made an interesting point that has stuck with me: “Our core business activities are probably the most important thing we do to contribute, as well as our employment in the area,” Bezos told The Times. In a 2010 interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, Bezos expressed doubt that philanthropy was the best way to solve social problems. “I’m convinced that in many cases, for-profit models improve the world more than philanthropy models, if they can be made to work.” He noted that Amazon’s e-book reader, the Kindle, might be seen as a low-cost, efficient way to distribute books worldwide to the underserved.
The component that resonates with me is that there are many ways to look at a problem, and there are many approaches to solving it. The bottom line should be that we’re working together to address the systemic challenges in our communitites and our world. I would suggest that on one end of the spectrum (remember, the word philanthropist essentially means to actively promote the welfare of others), you are a philanthropist if you keep your kids off the streets. You are a philanthropist if you frequent a local, independently owned, restaurant. You are a philanthropist if you buy second hand clothes before buying new ones. Each of these actions work toward combating problems by being a part of the solution. Now, these activities shouldn’t represent your entire portfolio. I do believe there is a place for straight charitable donations. But to be sure there are many ways to round out how you give back in your life. Depending on your current financial situation, you may not be able to give as much as your neighbor, but you can always act with integrity and a willingness to help out those in need around you. Consider if there ways in which you act in the world that could make as much of an impact as a large charitable gift. When you are thoughtful about your contribution as a part of the solution, directing your time and finances to the places that create and support the health and development of the community, environment and individuals around you, a broader brush stroke is being painted in the world. This is an important leap.
I told those women to embrace the title, to tell the world, fuck yeah I’m a philanthropist. Stop feeling guilty about not having more to give. Reframe the giving you’re already doing. Recognize the amount of time you spend making your world a better place just by being present in the lives of your kids and your local community. Once you reclaim that word for yourself, and place value on the giving you do contribute, you’ll find ever widening circles of opportunity for giving.
Say it with me: Fuck yeah. I’m a philanthropist.