Central to the idea of philanthropy is a personal definition of generosity and the role it plays in your life. Understanding and highlighting your generosity is integral to your philanthropic plan. Take a moment here and ask yourself if you are a generous person. Roll the word over and think about what generosity means to you. If someone asked you for a few descriptive words to describe yourself, would generous be one of the adjectives you’d give them?
I’ll be honest, when I began this journey I didn’t feel much like a generous person. While I recognized generosity as something I valued and I saw how significantly it played into the description of a philanthropist, the word didn’t seem to fit. What was it about this word that was elusive to me? Was it because I attached the definition of generosity with money and the major donors who could give away more than I could? Was it because I equated the word with the selflessness of Mother Theresa, or the commitment of Peace Corp volunteers? As I mulled these images over I realized that, to me, generosity felt like a deep and overflowing well. I was imagining a woman with a smile and a graciousness of someone much more well rested than myself. Right now I’m home full time raising two young boys, and my well is not deep and overflowing. Generosity feels like a state of being that I do not currently reside in. So if generosity is important to my philanthropy, and my sense of self, how do I cultivate this value?
The answer is a simple truth: you can’t give what you don’t already have. In order to be generous with others, you must first be generous with yourself. If you’re feeling tapped in your ability to serve others, I’d encourage you to ask if you’re first being kind to yourself. Are you meeting your own basic needs? For me a basic need is the time to read and write, and clearing the space to do these things is an act of generosity (because Lord knows there are many other duties pulling for my attention). When I prioritize the time to do things that matter to me, the message received is, you’re important enough to get what you need to fill your well. Without this personal generosity, I don’t have one generous bone to throw into the soup pot to feed the rest of my family, let alone anyone beyond them. And this couldn’t be more important right now, as many of us are battling activist fatigue and feeling spread too thin across issues. Start with yourself, find the things that are an expression of generosity for you, and you’ll see the well begins to overflow.
And this ‘overflow’ of giving don’t necessitate an abundance of money or complete selflessness or even a long term commitment. Generosity can be the time spent listening to a neighbor, or making eye contact and saying hello as you pass people on the street. It might be taking dinner to the family who just had a baby. Or offering to make the kids’ lunches and clean the kitchen so your partner can retire to the TV early. There are no insignificant acts of generosity. How you show up, for others as well as yourself, builds the foundation of your personal philanthropy.
- What does generosity look like in my life? Where do I feel generous?
- Who is being served by my generosity right now?
- What are some ways I could be generous with myself?
- Is there a simple action I could take today that would expand my generosity?
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