When I think about philanthropy, I often ponder the systems, the actors, the intricacies behind giving (of time, talent, treasure, and testimony) and receiving, the inequalities, and the work to make it better.
What I sometimes forget is the heart. The word “philanthropy” stems from the Greek words “philos,” which means love, and “anthropos,” which means man or humanity. So, simply put, philanthropy means love of humanity.
Defining philanthropy in this way leads to the characterization of many acts as philanthropic. For example, baking cookies for my neighbor or someone lending me a pen at work. This leads me down the rabbit hole of well, if all kinds of acts and possibly, thoughts, are philanthropic, how do you measure philanthropy? Giving USA compiles numbers about individual, corporate, foundation, and bequest giving during a year, but does it count all philanthropic acts? I don’t believe so.
The data nerd in me protests that there has to be a way to measure philanthropy, but my storyteller side recognizes that you can’t measure everything, especially if you define philanthropy as love of humanity.
For example, I watched a video the other day about a young reader who received Charlotte’s Web from the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s (SCGLR) summer program, THIS BOOK IS COOL! Sa’ryiah had started reading the book from her school’s library during the spring semester but was unable to finish when schools closed due to COVID-19. When she dug through her packet of books, her eyes lit up when she saw her brand new copy of Charlotte’s Web. Her repeated phrase of “I’m so happy,” shows not only the power of reading but also the power of connection and the heart in philanthropy.
And Sa’ryiah wasn’t the only one. Including summer camps and individual families, more than 4,000 children participated in THIS BOOK IS COOL! Photos of smiling, happy faces remind me that philanthropy can bring joy during turbulent, uncertain times.
And not only did TBIC re-emphasize the importance of encouraging children to read, but it gave SCGLR team members the opportunity to engage with parent/s – a child’s first teacher. Throughout the summer, SCGLR team members connected with parents to make sure that their children received the books. No matter the challenges they face (and there are many), all parents want what’s best for their children, and they know that reading, and reading on grade level, make a difference.
Here are several quotes from parents about TBIC:
“I feel super good about this program. My son’s had a tough summer without his friends, and having these books to practice his reading has been a bright spot for him.“
“My son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and struggles with learning, but he’s always shown a love for books. It will undoubtedly help him on his educational journey. Thank you for doing all you can to ensure he receives his books and allowing him the opportunity to participate in THIS BOOK IS COOL!“
“My kids love the program, and so do I. The kids love getting new books!“
There are hundreds more just like those.
Families face so many challenges, especially during COVID. Moving forward, we must continue to find ways to imbue love, connectivity, and heart into our philanthropic work. When we connect and grow and love as a community, we learn about each other, grow to respect our differences, and learn how to use our strengths to make the world a better place. So, what would it take for those of us with resources to go the extra mile to make life slightly easier or better for those in need (and those not as well)?
THIS BOOK IS COOL! is all about love, connectivity, and heart. It’s not just The Patterson Foundation buying and giving away new books. It was the very process of carefully choosing 100 featured books, books that cover themes of diversity (race, ethnicity, learning disabilities, etc.), social-emotional learning, life skills such as perspective-taking, focus, and critical thinking, arts and learning, and more. It’s the SCGLR team members who go out of their way to connect with parents and make sure those books are picked up or delivered, in some way or another. It’s the vast amount of time, treasure, talent, and testimony needed to make this program a reality.
On my desk is a mostly purple, but slightly rainbow-looking heart. When I’m thinking about systems, processes, and hurdles, I remind myself that under all of the mundane and all of the challenges, philanthropy is also about love and demonstrating genuine care for one another.
During good times and bad, the heart of philanthropy continues its resounding beat, reminding us that love of humanity remains at the core of who we are as human beings.