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How Your Philanthropy Ripples into Greater Change

by | Oct 6, 2021

Sunflowers, zinnias and gerbera daisies have overtaken the rose bushes. A shallow garden running the length of our backyard fence is full of colorful flowers tumbling over each other as if escaping into the yard.

As the flowers fade and fall arrives, I become a little sad. Thus, in my garden, fall creates a time for reflection before I pull everything out and begin planning to start over in spring. It’s a time of transition.

Reflection is good for the soul, especially as the end of the year approaches and we begin to think about those last gifts – our last philanthropy for the year.

Alone or with family, giving is primarily an individual experience. Or perhaps you give with a family foundation, or even with a circle of friends – like a giving circle. Whether alone or with a group, we experience giving from our place in the world. When, how, to whom – inevitably, it’s still about the individual.

But philanthropy is greater than you and me. Most often, it’s defined by its’ Latin origin, “love of mankind.” Philosophers call it meliorism, also with a Latin origin meaning “better”. It is the belief that the world can be made better by human effort.

At the intersection between the love of mankind and the belief that the world can be made better, we find profound action.

Human effort – that’s you and me. That’s more than just checks and charge cards, more than hours of volunteering or time spent at the bedside of family or a friend.

How Does Your Mark on the World Look?

I often ask the question, “if you could change the world, what would you do?” The answer that follows is your mark on the world.

It’s a simple answer for some, more complex for others.

My First Mark

After college, I stumbled into my first nonprofit job with a small cohort of mostly women, determined to change just one thing in our community. We sought a different response from law enforcement to a woman’s painful experience of stranger rape.

That effort eventually became the East Texas Crisis Center. Our focus on women and stranger rape reflected how little we understood the complexities of sexual assault and, eventually even, family violence.

Despite how little we understood the work ahead of us, we believed the world – our community – could be made better by our combined effort.

Each Mark Produces a Ripple

Over the years, I’ve encountered many individuals and groups working to bring change. The changes create ripples that curl and fold into each other, sometimes rippling into a tide of change.

But, human effort is always on the bank skipping the first rock.

Philanthropy can be described as the sum of all human effort, far greater than any one of us. Yet entirely dependent on the actions of every one of us.

Looking back, I am sure the early work of the East Texas Crisis Center rippled into services for incest victims and even counseling for batterers. Yet, neither service was envisioned as part of our original mission. In time a separate organization was spawned, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County. Again, early ripples eventually grew into a tide of change.  A whole slew of individuals made the work of both organizations possible, and they continue to give to make tomorrow better for someone.

Make Your Philanthropy Ripples Count

Last weekend several hummingbirds were sighted at the feeder, and two Monarch butterflies engaged in the courtship dance while feeding on the nectar of my fading flowers. I’m sure the hummingbirds are passing through on the way to warmer climates, and the Monarchs will soon be on their way to Mexico.

I am confident they know what they are doing and where they are going. How confidant are you about the ripples of change you are seeking?

The mad rush of the holidays is around the corner. Now is an excellent time to pause and reflect on your giving and the ripples from your philanthropy. Ask yourself, what isn’t finished yet? What needs more funding to ensure change? The answers are crucial steps on your giving journey.

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