Are you a philanthropist?
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 01.15.2010Share

Joan, Joseph and I were lucky to participate in the Glenn Institute's Family Philanthropy panel the other night. (Hannah is in Australia until Monday so she had to miss it, poor girl.) Our family was joined on the panel by the McCamey and Russells. Each family had a very different story: ours you already know; the McCameys begin looping their kids into the service mix before they are one-year-old (my favorite quote from Bill, the dad: "you just have to schedule it, just like soccer"); the Russells have this marvelous multi-generational thing going, in which family members ages 10-70+ might be in the mix, all with a spirit of helping those in need.

At one point, I asked the audience and the panel the question in the headline above, "Are you a philanthropist?" You see, in my mind, philanthropists are named Rockefeller or Carnegie or Gates. Not Salwen. Our family is a collection of givers or doers or servers, not philanthropists.

About 40 percent of the audience members raised their hands. It was clear they had a more expansive view of philanthropy than I did. Then one man in the audience -- a quite learned man at that! -- stood up to explain that the Latin translation of the word philanthropy is "love of mankind." By that definition, maybe lots more of us are philanthropists, or at least philanthropic.

What do you think? Do we need a new word, or is philanthropist cover it?

I think most of us are philanthropists. Think of it this way... Teacher Robert Payton and his student Michael Moody write: "Through philanthropy, donors and volunteers express their moral (and sometimes spiritual) values and make public their moral opinions on how the world can be made better... Individuals and groups express their values, advocate for their visions of the public good, work to achieve their missions, and find meaning, purpose, and hope in life through philanthropy" (2008, p. 98). If you take this to be true, Mother Hale who found her life's work, caring for drug-addicted infants, in her twilight years joins Andrew Carnegie who donated thousands of libraries to our communities. The teenager who spends two months of Saturdays building a Habitat house joins Jane Addams who founded the Settlement House movement. The family living at the poverty line who takes in, feeds and clothes a neighbor's child because of his parent's incarceration joins Angelina Jolie as she advocates internationally against land mines. Philanthropy offers an umbrella of humanitarian living that is both as individual as our passions and as universal as focusing on what benefits the many. It connects service and giving (no matter how small or large the monetary gift) and the use of our talents to make the world better. Why should the term be reserved for an elite few when these actions are as inherently a part of the human condition as curiousity, creativity, self-preservation, and the need for meaning. It is a beautiful part of the human fabric that binds us across class, ethnicity, national boundaries, and often even across ideology.
Posted by Luana at 08:59am on 01.18.2010