Philanthropy is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it has been around since the 5th century BC. Greek playwright Aeschylus created the term and at the time it meant “love of humanity.”
Today we use philanthropy to describe acts of generosity, whether they be “gifts of wealth, wisdom or work.” All of these types of support are crucial to the mission and sustainability of thousands of non-profits around the world that work for the betterment of society.
Our country is built on the financial contributions of those who came before us. In the 19th century, wealthy industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford established private family foundations to tackle social issues and support causes that they viewed as important–poverty, feeding the homeless, arts, and education to name a few.
Today, philanthropy is ingrained in American culture. To put those early days of philanthropy into perspective: in 2018 individuals contributed $292.09 billion to charities and six out of ten households made a gift to charity (from Giving USA). The wealth and generosity of a few early American philanthropists and their combined support of nonprofits, has grown to unforeseen heights through gifts both large and small. Financial contributions remain paramount to the mission of every charitable organization and without the continued generosity of individuals, many organizations would cease to exist and the honorable work they do would simply go undone.
Philanthropy is personal. People contribute for a variety of reasons, but the most often cited is a deep belief in the mission of the organization(s) they support. Whether a school, art museum, food bank, or homeless shelter, contributors believe that organization is making a difference in the lives of the people it serves. In this way, contributors feel they are having an impact on those lives too.
Personally, as a fundraiser of 29 years, my dedication to philanthropy has been fueled by my ability to connect people with the institutions and causes they are passionate about. When people say, “it must be so hard to ask for money,” I counter with, it’s not hard when I know I am working to fulfill hopes and dreams not only of the institution but of the contributor as well.
A personal contribution enriches and strengthens what the contributor believes in and together, we are working toward a common goal. For me, that is the reward.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it makes you feel good. It’s true! Research has shown there is a part of your brain that reacts positively to giving something of yourself to others. Whether it is dropping some coins into the Salvation Army’s bucket, sending a donation to your alma mater, or volunteering some time if you are unable to donate monetarily. That simple act triggers endorphins in your brain (US News & World Report).
If you’re curious, go ahead… and try it. You will feel uplifted and you most certainly will be helping others.