The advent of Giving Tuesday has made me re-examine my family’s views towards philanthropy. The event, which takes place this year on December 3rd, inspires people to think beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday in terms of giving to get, and shifts the focus towards giving to give.
I didn’t experience a strong tradition of giving in childhood. I think it might be because my family didn’t follow an organized religion. Or maybe it was because my dad was so busy raising me by himself that he didn’t stop to think about the character-building opportunities of soup kitchen visits or packing backpacks for disadvantaged children.
In the absence of religion, our school has become the community in which my kids experience philanthropy. But they have also seen how giving can change your life. He had his own charitable projects: My father worked to bring alcoholism treatment centers to Native American communities throughout the country. But we weren’t part of a community at home that emphasized giving.
The first time I became part of something like that was when my son started kindergarten. Our local school is a fundraising machine, and I was so overwhelmed by the requests that I didn’t give much at all. “It’s a public school,” my husband argued. “We pay our taxes.”
But I quickly learned that taxes don’t cover the science lab and the library and the aides—in short, all the things that support the teachers so they can do what they do best: teach our children. Today I have my giving schedule set—annual donation in the fall, fundraiser donation in the spring—and I donate my time throughout the year.
I think it’s important that we support the school, but I also think that it’s important that our children see us do it. In the absence of religion, our school has become the community in which they experience philanthropy.
My children are also beginning to understand the responsibility of giving that supports organizations which give back to the community. Each year at Christmas, I give each of them a set amount of money that they choose to donate to charity. I fill a manila folder with information about local, national and international non-profits. We then discuss each cause in turn, (hopefully) broadening their understanding of what was going on in our country—and the world.
But giving money can’t be all there is.
My children have seen how getting directly involved with philanthropy can change your life. I served nearly two years as the Executive Director of Healthy Child Healthy World, and have been involved with that organization—in one way or another—since 2007. Now, I’m consulting for the similarly focused Environmental Working Group, the nation’s leading environmental health research and advocacy organization, as well as Prototypes, an amazing organization that helps children can stay with their mothers while they’re undergoing treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.
Visiting Prototypes has made me so thankful for how much my family and I have, and committed me to helping these incredibly determined families who are rebuilding their lives with so little. I am inspired and humbled by each interaction, and can’t wait for the chance for my family to visit with me, so they can better understand how life-changing this work can be.
Isn’t that what giving is all about? So tell me, what do you plan to contribute—and where?