Most of us do not relate to the word philanthropy. It is Bill Gatesian, John Rockefelleresque, foreign word that is reserved for the Bentley crowd. Even wealthy donors do not use the "P" word. Yet the literal meaning of philanthropy is beautiful. From its Greek origins it translates to Love of Humanity. In other words giving is a way of expressing our love for one another.
Regrettably only a few of us can be on the Forbes 400, but all of us give. We give as much as we can. Most of us could give more—time and money–but we all have a generous spirit.
Yet giving away money is a mysterious business. To the uninformed, giving away a lot of money would be easy and fun. Like most things it is not what you think it is. I was with a nameless billionaire the other day (you are so important John!!) and he complained about the "burden" of his giving–that "there is no way I can give away all of my money before I die." I know some of you just want a name and and contact info 🙂 But in all serious pursuits, in all careers–when you fully engage yourself in the art and science of something–challenges are revealed. You begin to realize how much you do not know. It can paralyze you or it can liberate you. To most it causes a brain freeze bigger than chugging a giant milkshake.
Funny thing, people with wealth or any extra money will tell you they love their philanthropy. They will tell you how fulfilling it is. Similar to any of us when asked about our computer skills–no one is not "proficient"! People who give away money who generally have been successful in life find it hard to admit that their philanthropy is transactional, random, and a "burden".
As I have said in this space for years, the key principle in life is to give without an expectation. Be ready to give first. Lead with your giving. Not just money, but with your attention, time, and expertise. When you are truly philanthropic with your life and have turned off WIIFM (what's in it for me), you benefit in ways that far exceed your giving.
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Picasso
All of our journeys are philanthropic. We do not have to be billionaires to make a difference. We forget how much we have when we focus on what we want. We love humanity but do not know where to begin.
As you know I help people give their money away. But I have learned that if the giving is not tied to the donor's heart, passions, their authentic interests, their core values, then their philanthropy is limited and unfulfilling. Giving becomes a task even a source of stress (like with my new billionaire buddy:). That's how many people feel about networking and mentoring. We can view time as our greatest asset and we become time hoarders–or so we think. We view it as precious and hold it back from others on one hand and then just waste it like we have all of the time in the world.
I literally get sick when people say things like, "Can't wait until this day/month/year is over!" You never get the time back. You can get your money back! Time is irretrievable.
Reminded of Seneca's incredible 2000 year old book On the Shortness of Life.
It is not that we have a short time to live, but we make it short by wasting a lot of it. We are frugal in guarding our personal property, but as it comes to squandering time, we are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.
Do I have to regale you with the physical, spiritual, intellectual benefits of giving? The increase in endorphins, oxytocin or just plain old satisfaction. Studies abound that show that generous people are happier, live longer and are healthier. In the newish book, The Paradox of Generosity, philanthropic families "had broader social circles, less self absorbed, and a greater sense of purpose." I had the great pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Kristof about his new book A Path Appears, perhaps the best book on philanthropy I have read. This is like 8 great books in one. And Nicholas and his partner Sheryl have done a wonderful job of making the case to give more and how to do it.
It is also well known and verified through research that you give like your network. If you live in a gated community you give 40% less than the average American! Because wealthy people who live in wealthy communities are trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you hang out with people who are less generous, chances are you are too. And "live more cynical and narrow lives" according to the research. Giving broadens your network to new worlds. Worlds outside of our bubbles, "gated communities" of homogeneous people who reinforce each other's perspective disconnected from reality. Susan Fiske's research at Princeton is the most disheartening. The wealthier we are the more we view poor people as objects instead of people. In other words, when we reside in a biosphere protected from the harsh realities of the real world, poor people are things not human.
So reach out and connect. break your bubbles and break out of your biospheres. Seek people and charities you love and help them. Get the benefits of giving and giving more.
So as we meander down our philanthropic paths, consider how much you have and start giving it away. Lead with your giving and it will take you to places that you want to go. Places that show you purpose, meaning, and why you are here.
I developed a special edition of my SWiVEL doc Download SWIVEL Philanthropy_2014 for people to help one another with their philanthropy. Share it.
I get so much out of writing these posts–way more than you! Thank you for the gift of your readership. John