I give to charity, but I am not a philanthropist….or am I?

Several Thanksgivings ago, my wife and I found ourselves at Arlington National Cemetery.  As we stood conversing near Robert E. Lee’s old mansion, admiring the view of the Potomac below, we were approached by a woman.  She wished us a happy holiday and then went on to tell how she had traveled to DC the day before so that she could attend the funeral of a son who had been killed in action in Iraq and buried at Arlington.  I was surprised by the sudden appearance of the woman and by the recounting of her grief.  Not quite sure what to say, I expressed some generic statement of sympathy and we quietly parted ways.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself this Thanksgiving eagerly waiting for the return of a family member who is serving in Afghanistan. It has been an incredible year for our family as we have watched this young man transition to military life and depart on his first tour of duty. While his time with us on leave will be short, our Thanksgiving together this year will be particularly meaningful. But with his homecoming, I am reminded of that experience at Arlington. Looking back, there was definitely more that could and should have been said. I am not one to live in the past; I simply wish that I had understood the woman’s loss with the same clarity that I do now. If I had, I would have done more to share my sincerest gratitude for her son’s service and my heart-felt grief at his sacrifice.

It is amazing how age and life experience can deepen our understanding of the value of people and blessings in our lives. And it has been my experience that with that self-reflective discernment comes an enhanced capacity to take action.  There is certainly reason enough this year for us to be particularly grateful for blessings that we might have taken, more or less, for granted in years past.  You don’t have to look far to find many that have lost jobs, lost homes and lost hope. Unfortunately, at the same time, the nonprofit sector finds itself in an interesting predicament.  While the needs of many have grown, corporations and foundations have had to cut back their funding to accommodate their own financial losses.

This year, more than ever, we need philanthropists – individuals who value clarity, effectiveness, and significance in their giving.  And philanthropy is not something reserved for only those of high net worth.  It is the distinction granted to individuals who are grateful for their material capacities, who personally identify with the needs of people and causes that parallel their own experience, and who wholeheartedly pursue their self-perceived charitable duty. So this year, as charitable opportunities abound, take a moment to reflect on what inspires your giving and volunteering. In doing so, not only will you have a much more rewarding experience, but you will also ameliorate the circumstances of those around you.

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