There are many fundamental needs and issues that need to be addressed in our communities, our cities, our nation and our world. Just a few of the many issues that have grabbed my attention include urban poverty, the opiod crisis, and climate change. Systemic solutions to these and other challenges will require significant investments of resources, new and proven approaches, and a concentration of time and effort.
As we wrestle with our philanthropic priorities that are derived from our personal values and beliefs, we need a process to identify what is fundamental for each of us. Philanthropy comes alive with alignment of vision, passion, and interests. When I think about how to best invest my time, talent, treasure and ties, the questions that I need to ask myself are: What am I aligned with? What do I believe in?
At my core, I believe in the power of human connection. I continually seek opportunities to connect with other people about real things. I operate from a place of gratitude and care about relationships, community, meaningful connections. Why does this matter? Because I am formulating a hypothesis about the world based on what I have learned to be true. That when people are connected to one another in community, there is less isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety; more emphasis on family, friendship, love and ultimately joy.
I returned to my hometown of Philadelphia nearly thirty years ago as a young adult with the desire to “make a difference”. My own volunteering and financial commitments are centered around making connections- first with hungry people and excess food as Chair of Philabundance; then as a friend and mentor to a young college going women through Philadelphia Futures and Mighty Writers; and for a dozen years as pronouncer for the Scripps-Tribune Spelling Bee, connecting hard working students with their dream of competing for the ultimate prize in Washington, D.C. My day jobs have focused on the connection between hard working and high achieving students with financial, academic, and social-emotional resources to access a high quality education. I use both my values and my strengths to fulfill my own need for connection and for the benefit of others.
The more generalizable theme that I am articulating is that philanthropy is a deeply personal endeavor. In order to be effective, you must first connect to what is important to you at your core. And then, begin to identify and engage externally with an organization, an issue, a cause with which you are aligned. For some people, identifying a cause and connecting with an organization that accomplishes its mission works just fine. For others, the connection goes beyond a deep understanding of the mission, to building a relationship with the leadership and key staff of the organization. Additionally, some people take the opportunity to get to know some of the program participants, or the “client” served by the organization. Indeed, knowing an organization’s key staff and some individuals who are actively engaged in using the programs and services, allow for an intellectual and emotional connection to the work.
Getting involved, essentially dipping your toe in the water of philanthropy is like the beginning of a voyage in unchartered waters. Your efforts in philanthropy will indeed be a journey marked by several phases of learning and action. It is important to begin your journey with an internal deep dive so that you can explore the world around you. The more closely connected you are to what matters to you and to those with whom you partner, and ultimately with those whom you serve, the more effective you will be and the more sustained meaning and satisfaction you will derive.