A century ago, the term "citizen philanthropist" was an oxymoron. Any young kid aspiring to save the world had his or her work cut out for them. To be a philanthropist, in the historical sense of the word, they had to generate an amazing amount of wealth selling oil, laying railroad track or making cars. Then they could start a foundation and give large amounts of money, tax-free, to a cause close to their heart. Without going into the social history of the United States, this career path was only available to old, rich, white dudes.
But that doesn't make any sense. Think about all the people you know that volunteer at the local soup kitchen, the community leaders at your church who are always helping people in the congregation, and the kid down the street that sells lemonade to end HIV/AIDS in Africa. The idea that we have to make a ton of cash before we help others in and beyond our community is ludicrous.
I founded Citizen Effect with the goal of providing anyone who has the passion to impact others, the tools and support to do just that. For the past three years we've connected hundreds of people across the country directly with critical projects that have impacted tens of thousands of lives around the world. What's special is that these people aren't Rockefellers. They work directly with the us to choose a project, design a unique fundraising approach, and engage their network in giving to a cause they're passionate about. They are citizen philanthropists.
Since announcing Detroit4Detroit the number one question people ask me is, "Why Detroit?" Understandably, Detroiters want to make sure Detroit4Detroit is not another well-intentioned, yet misguided outsider coming to "save" their city. The answer is simple, it's the people. Whether they know it or not, the "can do" attitude of Detroiters is the essence of what it means to be a citizen philanthropist.
In 2012, Detroit4Detroit will take the first steps to starting a movement of citizen philanthropy in Detroit by connecting 150 passionate citizens with 150 community projects throughout the city.
To do this, we've established partnerships with non-profits and local community leaders that are on the front-lines of impact in Detroit. Together, we've identified individual projects based on tried and tested programs that will make the most of people's efforts.
The once held meaning of "philanthropist" no longer applies to only a few. Anyone can be a citizen philanthropist with Detroit4Detroit. Young professionals, retirees, high school students, small businesses, the list goes on and on. The power to impact the lives of others sits with the everyday people who make this incredible city what it is.
Follow Dan P. Morrison on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dancitizen