For most of my life, the term philanthropist was reserved for the super rich. People like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet and the Rockefellers. I did not personally know any philanthropists and becoming one myself was not on the list of things I thought I would grow up to be. That all changed in April 2008, when Oprah Winfrey handed me $1,000,000 as the winner of Oprah's Big Give, her reality TV show. Suddenly, I had more money to give away than I ever imagined. I was a philanthropist!
But was I really? Was it only money that made me a philanthropist?
This question intrigued me and I decided to do a little research to begin to understand what it really meant to be a philanthropist.
I went to the web for a definition of "philanthropist." Much to my surprise, the main definitions did not reference money at all. In fact, the Wikipedia entry for philanthropy says,
"...the love of humanity", in the sense of "what it is to be human," the essence of our humanity. In modern practical terms, it is "private initiatives for public good, focusing on
quality of life"
So, a true philanthropist was a person who loved humanity, one who used their own life and their own means for the public good. It is the everyday man or woman who makes an effort to make a difference.
Why then are we only celebrating the "big dogs" as philanthropists? Does it always come
down to money?
I did a little more research and learned something that I would have never guessed.
In 2009, Americans gave away more than $300 billion, far and away the largest amount of money by any country in the world. I assumed that most of the amount came from corporations and big foundations. As I dug deeper into the numbers, however, I discovered
I was completely wrong again. Yes, Bill and Melinda Gates gave away an incredible amount of money and should be celebrated.
But the fact is that more than 75 percent of the money given away in the U.S. each year (approximately $225 billion!) is given by individuals like you and me. $25, $50 and $100 checks made up the majority of giving. It was "everyday philanthropists" making the biggest difference.
So with this new knowledge and $1,000,000 from Oprah, I decided that what we needed was an organization that celebrated the "everyday philanthropist," one that honored and empowered the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people.
I began to meet these everyday philanthropists and asked what I could do to help them. Almost everyone had the same response: "Well, if Oprah gave me some money, I would give it to ________," and fill in the blank with their favorite charity or cause. What they needed most as philanthropists was a little more money to give.
I did use the Oprah money to help meet the needs of my favorite causes. But, what was truly
needed was a way to give the everyday philanthropist a little more "everyday money" to give away.
On Friday, April 8, Giveback.org launched "100 Days of Giving". I want to "give back" to others what Oprah gave to me. Every day for the next 100 days, one person will receive $1,000 to give away to their favorite cause or charity. On the 100th day, July 17, one person will receive $50,000 to give away.
At GiveBack.org, everyday philanthropists create their own GiveBack foundation account which can be funded through everyday living. I hope GiveBack.org will facilitate a movement
of everyday philanthropists. You and I may not be Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
However, those who "love humanity" and "act privately for the public good" are philanthropists. Create a foundation account at GiveBack.org and be celebrated for the philanthropist.
You already are.