My first experience with philanthropy was as a child attending church services with my family. Each week, my mother would place her check in the offering plate then give my brother, sister and me a dollar to follow her example as the plate was passed down the aisle. As an adult, I shared this tradition with my son and daughter and when my children’s friends would join us on Sunday morning, I would give them a dollar to place in the offering as well. I didn’t realize this simple gesture, which was started by my mother, would provide the foundation for my personal philanthropy. Though it would take me years to recognize, I’ve been a philanthropist my whole life. I imagine many of my friends and neighbors are as well, though they may not embrace the title. I think that should change.
Having worked at local nonprofit human service organizations, I’ve seen the impact that small gifts have on critical service programs that support the most vulnerable in our community. I saw children donate their birthday money to help aid a homeless shelter, and I watched youth groups volunteer their time to stock food pantry shelves. And every winter, I see countless individuals stop to put a small gift in the red kettles. These acts of generosity, though small, accumulate to better our communities and it’s my hope that every participant understand this — and consider themselves philanthropists.
But what is a philanthropist? A philanthropist doesn’t have to give large gifts, or have a specific amount of power or influence. A philanthropist is simply a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others, often, but not always, with donations of time, resources or money. When seen in that light, many of us
are already devoted community philanthropists.
In my current role at the Community Foundation, I have the privilege of working with folks who wish to transform their resources into community impact, both today and in the future. We are able to help them make their charitable dollars go further, and provide information and support to help them make the greatest impact they can. These are not always individuals with large salaries or the beneficiaries of multigenerational wealth. Often they are everyday hardworking Iowans, who wish to ensure the modest resources they’ve accumulated during their lifetimes are used to support a favorite charity or cause. These people, too, are devoted philanthropists.
I know I’m not alone in my efforts to give back. Countless friends and neighbors do the same. I want to suggest that we all, regardless of our level of giving, should embrace the title of philanthropist. Whether you’re donating your time or money, and regardless 10 hours or 100 hours, if it’s $10 or $10,000, you’re a philanthropist if you’re committed to the welfare of our community. So, next time you’re thinking about how you identify yourself — mother, father, Iowan, nurse, pipe fitter, business leader, or marketing executive — consider adding “philanthropist” to your title. It could do a whole lot of good.
• Michelle Beisker is vice president of development at Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation