In a recent article by Bruce DeBoskey he writes of an experience that brings to light the question, Should philanthropy be instinctive or strategic? It’s a question I continually consider in my work, and it’s one that I’ve written quite a bit about. Of course the answer is ‘both, and’. Good philanthropy requires both instinctive and strategic responses, meeting immediate needs for individuals while creating systems change for groups of individuals; and, these responses are most effective when they are embedded within a personal framework for giving that guides your everyday philanthropic actions.
Bruce is one of my favorite writers on philanthropy, first for his transparent humility (in this article, for example, admitting that his first reaction is not to help someone in immediate need and admiring his colleague’s ‘instinctive generosity’), and then for his ability to make grand ideas of philanthropy accessible and timely. In this case, he provides some thought provoking questions for your family to consider on Thanksgiving, and ends with this:
“As we approach the Thanksgiving table, let us be grateful. But let us also recall that 50 million people in the United States regularly go hungry, including one of five children. What can we do to share our abundance with others? How can we do it most meaningfully and effectively?”
Right now, more than any other time of year, we are being bombarded with images and ideas of what we lack. Stores this year, some for the first time, will be opening on Thanksgiving Day. There is a pledge floating around encouraging people not to partake in this for the sake of family and community, for the sake of the people who are called into work on this national holiday, for the sake of our shared experience of being American. These are all good reasons, and we could debate changing cultural norms, consumerism, generosity and what this country is losing and becoming. However, to me, it can simply be distilled down to this: If you have the fortune to be home that day from work, with family and/or friends, with shelter and food, with enough money in the bank that you can go out and shop if you’d like, acknowledge there are many others who don’t. More than any other time of year, this is an opportunity to strengthen our capacity to give, by giving thanks. When we reflect on and are grateful for what we already have, rather than thinking about what we need and want, we nurture our love of humanity.
So this holiday, rather than pledging not to shop, I suggest we pledge to be philanthropists and create personally meaningful and effective ways to share our abundance. I’d love to hear what you come up with.