November is a very special month for those involved in philanthropy. We set aside time to honor our traditions of gratitude. For many of us, gratitude and the chance to give back ranks high among the values that motivate our giving and volunteering. We are grateful for our own blessings and we generously want others to share in the kinds of opportunity we have had.
Gratitude crosses all lines – among them, social, economic, class, religious, gender, racial and ethnic. Most of us are inspired and encouraged by the good things in our lives. But we also take time – especially this month – to recognize need. Many giving families will make time this month to volunteer at a homeless shelter or serve Thanksgiving dinner to those who might not otherwise have one.
Families are trying harder than ever to share these traditions with their youngest members. After all, one of the first concepts we teach our children is sharing. Embrace them in this holiday. There are many resources with creative ideas that can help you think about engaging young people. Susan Price’s The Giving Family, Fred Rogers’ The Giving Box, Jennifer Nolan and Tory Dietel Hopps’ Spintastik for the Family, and Ellen Sabin’s The Giving Book are just a few of the imaginative and helpful resources available.
The children in our lives likely have never known want. We are able to take care of their basic needs and provide many more things besides: a great education; interesting travel; sports and hobbies; vacations; entertainment; and – goodness knows – electronic gadgets. In our good intentions, we may create a sense of entitlement or expectation. Gratitude is a powerful antidote for entitlement. And, while we may try to protect them, we want them to be aware of community needs. Volunteering is the perfect strategy for ensuring we raise a new generation of socially aware and involved citizens.
The hopes and concerns of giving families are universal. Like gratitude, it matters little what you have or don’t have when it comes to wanting to create a better world for ourselves and those to come. That became even more clear to me a couple of weeks ago when I attended the Slate 60 conference at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Each year, Slate recognizes the 60 most generous charitable gifts of the previous year. For the second year, they held a conference to engage those donors and others in the field in a discussion of philanthropy present and future. A distinguished audience included those from government, business, entertainment, academia, journalism, the arts, and the nonprofit sector. Participants included the wealthiest man in the world, Carlos Slim of Mexico, and Michael J. Fox, actor and Parkinson’s disease activist. Several members of historically philanthropic families and several entrepreneurs new to wealth and philanthropy also were present.
While we may all give and volunteer according to our own means, the concerns of this special audience were little different than those I hear from high school audiences, families at a Jewish heritage event, or those who just want to talk about what they can do for their community and children. We’re not all able to make a $100 million gift for the Clinton Latin-American anti-poverty initiative as Mr. Slim recently did. We can’t all raise $100 million for Parkinson’s research as Mr. Fox has. But we can give of time, talent, and treasure as we are inspired and able. And we’ll give out of gratitude for what we have – spiritually, physically, and materially – and we’ll give with the optimism of those who believe they can make things even better for their children and their neighbors.
And we celebrate them all this month: the Slate 60 and the charitable thousands.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know.
The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
Virginia M. Esposito
President, National Center for Family Philanthropy