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Everyday Philanthropy: The Art of Giving During Uncertain Times

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How can we practice philanthropy, in a climate of ongoing discussions about national budget deficits, dismal unemployment statistics and forecasts of global economic uncertainty?

In general it seems that people are feeling like they have little to share with the less fortunate; some because they are experiencing a decline in fortune due to unemployment, underemployment or shrinking dividends and others whom are gainfully employed, yet anxious about their security, which seems all too fragile.

Our individual and collective strength lies in our willingness to offer a 'hand up' to those experiencing misfortune. The economic downturn is perfect timing to engage in what I call 'everyday philanthropy,' the practice of giving in small yet impactful ways.

A prerequisite for this practice is to operate from a new value system. Too much emphasis is placed on material wealth as a condition for being a philanthropist. By definition, philanthropy is a desire to improve the material, social, and spiritual welfare of humanity, especially through charitable activities. A broader definition of wealth is required here. There is value in your knowledge, experience, time and compassion. If you have your health, you have enough wealth to help another.

The practice of everyday philanthropy engages a consciousness that harnesses the power of creative giving. For those who give regularly to their house of worship, fraternal organization or alumni association, the current economic environment provides an opportunity to expand our capacity and definition of charity. Consider cultivating the practice of everyday philanthropy on both individual and civic levels.

Charity, like love, begins at home. Too often, people overlook the suffering occurring in their own families, among friends and neighbors. While it is a given that everyone knows someone who has suffered a job or other loss, it is often true that those closest to us may be hesitant to articulate their needs. Charitable giving at its highest level, seeks to support the dignity of recipient. My father, who was a generous supporter of our community, had a saying, "If there is a crack, fill it!" Through him I learned people in need should not have to ask; rather it is our responsibility to pay attention and recognize and address the needs of others.

There are millions of children in need of mentors; even an hour a month can have a positive impact on a young person's life. Soup kitchen attendance is at an all time, high; volunteering to help feed people can be very rewarding. I recently learned of a small business owner in the home improvement sector, who is giving back by giving out a free home improvement contract for every 10 sales he makes.

"Time and commitment to protecting our vulnerable children has been a gift beyond measure to our beleaguered communities," says my mentor Susan L. Taylor, former editor of Essence Magazine, and founder of National CARES Mentoring Movement, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization and the largest and most highly regarded national organization in the Black mentoring arena. Its mission is to close the huge gap between the relatively few Black mentors and the millions of vulnerable Black children in need of mentoring.

A short list everyday philanthropy:

  • Volunteer to be a mentor in your community. CARES Mentor-Recruitment Circles are available in 57 U.S. cities. For information on getting involved, visit www.caresmentoring.org
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, school or other community organization
  • Give a gift certificate for school supplies to a student or family in need
  • Give a weekly or monthly transportation card or gas gift card to a person seeking work
  • Donate toys to a hospital or holiday toy drive
  • Clean out your basements, attics and closets and donate unused and unwanted items to family, friends or charity
  • Offer to help an elderly or infirmed person with their grocery shopping
  • Volunteer to take a sick person to the doctor
  • Donate canned goods to a food pantry
  • Donate 1,5 or 25 to a non-profit organization that benefits your community

Giving is good for the heart, mind and spirit. As we give to others, we enrich ourselves. The look of joy on the recipients face, or to witness the improvement in a life or community is priceless! Why wait for an earthquakes or other disaster to realize how much we need each other? If we are fortunate enough to be healthy and of sound mind, there is always something of value we have to share.

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