The Immediate Philanthropist

That beautiful time of the year is coming again: The time of giving. It seems to start with the gratitude and time spent with family during Thanksgiving, following through to the December Holiday season.

However, for some reason our society has distilled the meaning of philanthropy into “money.” It now seems to mean that in order to give, we need to write a check. Being from Silicon Valley, sometimes I’ve even heard people say, “I can’t wait to make it big from my next venture. Then I’ll start giving back to our communities in a major way.”

Donating money is certainly not the only, or most important, way of giving. And we don’t have to wait on money in order to be able to give right now. In fact, the true root of the word philanthropy means “love of people,” or “love of humankind.” That means philanthropy can be a full-time calling, for each one of us, right now.

I lead a website that helps people give of themselves, both their money and volunteer time, so I am acutely aware of these issues. But one of the thoughts that has come to me is that my “job in philanthropy,” most certainly doesn’t start at 9 am and end at 5 pm. If we follow the definition of philanthropy above, that means our every moment can be an opportunity to care for, love and cherish another fellow human being.

One day I had a pivotal experience that helped me be a better ‘daily philanthropist.’ Each day I make a thoughtful ‘to do’ list with which I hope to carry out my purpose. The list might range from cultivating a large corporate partnership, to an errand at the drycleaners. There was a nice sense of satisfaction in checking off these items.

During this day, I found myself particularly busy. I rushed into the drycleaners. I swooped in to pick up my clothes and leave a bundled pile of clothes to be processed. There, I had fit it in before a meeting. I had gotten one more item off my list! Accomplishment, I thought; and yet I didn’t feel it.

What I realized is that the dry cleaners wasn’t an errand. It was an opportunity to love. We aren’t programmed to just get through life and get things done. Instead, each activity, each to-do, each task, is actually an experience of loving. That is the true spirit of philanthropy.

As one great thinker wrote, a person “…is a marvel, a miracle in the universe….With selfless love, he inscribes on the heart of humanity and transcribes on the page of reality the living, palpable presence – the might and majesty! – of all goodness. He lives for all mankind.”  Rushing in and out of the dry cleaners, I had missed a valuable opportunity. What I needed to do was connect with my dry cleaners, know them by name, greet them warmly, and sincerely ask how they are doing. Now I know how Hao is doing, and we have a great relationship of warmth and kindness. 🙂 I look forward to our visits. I’ve now found philanthropy exists at the drycleaners.

With the Holiday season of philanthropy upon us, we can each strive to care more sincerely for each person we meet.  By our simple interaction and communication with each person, every moment, we can all be ‘immediate’ philanthropists. Love – philanthropy – simply doesn’t wait.

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