Since I wrote my last post I’ve been thinking a lot about philanthropy.  I’ve wanted to be a philanthropist my entire life.  Why not?  You get to help others in a meaningful way and feel good about making a difference.  What’s not to like about that?

The problem?  How to do it without money!   Being a philanthropist implies that we have expendable or discretionary income.  Like Bill Gates, for instance.  Did you know he has donated more to social causes than anyone in history?

So, if you don’t have money, why even consider the concept? Well, let me tell you a story told to me years ago by a woman I met when I was in college.  She was considerably older than me, a single mother with a rather unusual upbringing.

Her dad was Spanish and in the fashion industry.  He made a lot of money and she was privileged to have the run of New York City with change in her pocket and a very unusual uncle. While the uncle was considered the black sheep by the rest of the family – he was a wobbly, a union activist and a philanthropist – he was hands-down her favorite relative.

Her uncle lived in a walkup in Brooklyn, not in a posh Westside apartment where she grew up.  His house served as a crash pad for people coming into town to protest.  For friends who were out of work or  homeless.  During prohibition he always had fruit fermenting in the bathtub with enough alcohol from it to keep his friends refreshed.

He went into the countryside regularly to pick crops to bring back for the poor (which also was how he kept the bathtub replenished).  But these weren’t his biggest contributions.

Her uncle carefully followed the papers to find where the big Manhattan Bar Mitzvahs and weddings were happening.  He would arrive near the end of the events and ask if they could have the leftovers.  Invariably, he would come home laden with food and flowers.  Whenever possible, he brought his friends with him. He had no car and the haul was always impressive so he constructed a special cart to bring everything home on the subway.

The next day, or even that evening, he would make the rounds of the local hospitals and rest homes, delivering food and flowers to those without families and those with limited means.  He literally provided for thousands of people during his lifetime without having two nickels of his own in his pocket!  His work was especially important as this was during the Great Depression!

There are so many ways we can be philanthropists. During these difficult times, it’s especially important that we find a niche for ourselves to do what we can to share our personal generosity. But how to motivate ourselves and others to do it?

In my last blog I mentioned Greater Good’s sites where we can click daily for free.  In 2009:

  • 65.7 million cups of food were distributed from The Hunger Site.
  • 6,986 free mammograms were provided for women without insurance through The Breast Cancer Site.
  • 201 acres of rain forest were saved from destruction by the Rain Forest Site.
  • 966,281 children were helped through the Child Health Site.
  • 481,177 books were donated to children from the Literacy Site.
  • The Animal Rescue Site provided 92 million bowls of food.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  Every click a visitor made on each site made a difference.  But surprisingly, even though it takes less than two minutes a day, and even though it’s free to do it, there were only thousands of clicks on most of the sites for the entire year!

Only one site got multi-millions of clicks — The Animal Rescue Site!

I love animals and I click there daily.  But I was shocked that visitors overlooked the other, equally important sites, sites that provide food and medical care and literacy options!  Why?  Is it because rescue dogs and cats are cuter or more deserving than hungry children needing healthcare?

I suspect it’s not because of a lack of care, but due to a disconnect in the asking.  Maybe we’re in a hurry and we’re animal lovers so we quickly click and move on.  Maybe we only click when an e-mail comes around to remind us.  Maybe we don’t think the power of one is enough to make a difference.

What do you think?  What can we do to get ourselves and others more motivated?  What does philanthropy mean to you?  I’ll write about your thoughts in a future blog.


3 Responses to “Why Be A Philanthropist?”

  1. Actually, Greater Good, which manages The Rainforest Site, Breast Cancer Site, Literacy Site, etc. absolutely does donate money. I attended a Social Venture Network gathering where the woman who founded it spoke. It was impressive. I also know that is very ethical and committed to social change. There are also groups such as iGive, which you can put on your site as an icon and if people purchase items from any of a large number of online sites, a percentage of the purchase money is put toward a non-profit of choice. Fortunately, along with all the greed and corruption, there are people and organizations who are honest and care. VQ

  2. I have the link for the Rain Forest site on the front of my home page at I click there every morning and go through all six of the links. I sometimes find gifts for friends on their sites as well. They are reliable and ship promptly. Also have frequent sales.

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