What do you think of when you hear the word “philanthropist?”
I see someone like Bono, Oprah, or Bill Gates. I imagine that they wake up in the morning thinking about opportunities to influence the world for their cause.
I, on the other hand, have a mortgage. I would like to spend my day tackling huge social and economic problems, but I have holes in my calendar that must be filled to pay my bills.
My guess is that more of you are like me than Bono, Oprah, and Bill. So does this mean we can all be philanthropists?
Etymologically, the word “philanthropy” means the love of humanity. That’s a little different than the notion that philanthropists give or raise large sums of money for a worthy cause. So yes, we can all engage in philanthropy from the purist perspective.
Unfortunately, examples of everyday people loving humanity are not staples of media coverage at the local, regional, national, or international levels. There are too many examples of “misanthropy” – the dislike, disgust, and contempt for the human species – to leave any time or space for showing that there are people who care.
That’s why I want to tell you about my parents, Claude and Pat Pennington.
My dad was a diesel truck mechanic. My mother worked part-time for years with the U.S. Census bureau. You wouldn’t call them rich by any means. A good financial year for them would be considered a slow month for many today. Yet in the purist sense of the word, they were life-long philanthropists.
My parents gave ten percent off the top to their church every week. They contributed financially to every cause that meant something to them. And, they gave their time as a Little League coach, Cub Scout Den Mother, and Sunday School teacher. Every Christmas, my mother made hundreds of dozens of special Santa Claus cookies that were shared around their town. On more than one occasion, I remember my father speaking with a co-worker on our front porch and then pulling $20 from his wallet to help him make it through the week.
My parents wouldn’t have considered themselves to be philanthropists either. They simply cared about people and accepted the responsibility to help as part of living in a community.
We live in a world where the freedom to aspire is celebrated. We sit around and think about what we would do if we were Bono, Oprah, or Bill. I do it from time to time, and I suspect that you do as well.
We also live in a world that can’t wait on Bono, Oprah, and Bill to solve its problems. There is too much to be done.
There are those that would let the government handle the problem. There are certainly things that we can and should do through a coordinated governmental effort. But, the government can’t do it all. It has shown itself to be lacking in that regard even before we reached the current financial crisis.
The only hope for the kind of results that make the world work for more people in need is philanthropy – and not just the kind of giving that we see from celebrities. We need philanthropists, like my parents, who love humanity and care about their communities.
They are around if we notice. And when you see them, it is important that they know that you appreciate them. We could even give them an award, but I’m fairly certain that they would simply look back and say, “Really? That’s philanthropy? I thought I was just pulling my weight.”
Find something that helps others and inspires your passion. Tell me and others about it here. Let’s all decide to love humanity a little more.