Standing Beside Alaska's Non-Profits

Building Your Personal Philanthropy Plan

Sharing one’s abundance, giving, is required to be fully human. That said, maybe I should defend this statement.

The definition of philanthropy is love of humankind, or performing benevolent or charitable activities. Most people understand and use the term to describe the organized sharing of time and especially of sharing money. However, philanthropy is not limited to organized giving, nor to the wealthy, nor corporations or foundations. Anyone who makes a conscious decision to share their time or other resources is a philanthropist. We should and could all be philanthropists.

My understanding about giving – philanthropy – is personal. Therefore, the only way I know to express myself is to share my history and values. Before I do, please forgive what could seem as TMI. I share only to make a point. I believe in giving – and I give – because I was taught to share.

I was raised in a supportive middle-class family in the South, and was involved in church and many nonprofit organizations. I grew up knowing that my parents, grandparents, and friends’ parents gave money and time to causes we were involved with. I remember being encouraged to give myself. I hold fond memories, believe it or not, of filling up the coin card for the March of Dimes and coloring my “Chesty,” an elfish character many Community Chests used as a logo, while collecting money. (Community Chest was United Way’s name in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) Both of those activities, as well as many others, were supported in my elementary school.

As a child, I witnessed my mom serve as a Cub Scout leader and my dad volunteer with my brother’s community theatre. He even spent time helping Junior Achievement, a program none in my family even participated in. In other words, I was raised to understand that sharing was good, even expected by all of the significant people in my life – my home, church, school, and community. I was lucky.

My financial support of United Way and other charities began when I started work. I am sure that my experience in elementary school influenced that decision. So did a memory of seeing my dad come home with his lapel pins for giving money and donating blood. My first jobs were in mental health organizations. I didn’t even begin to work in a United Way until I was 30. So when I started work at United Way, my giving was established. I gave because I had learned to give, but I still didn’t have a plan to give until later.

At about three years into my United Way career, I witnessed a sanitation engineer, or garbage man, making no more than $10,000 a year, give $1,000. I was amazed. I was embarrassed. I was challenged. My wife listened to my angst. We knew we gave and felt good that we did, but trying to understand why someone would share so much was a challenge.

It was at that time, when our combined income was about $24,000 a year, with a small child, a mortgage and all of the uncertainty of someone in their early 30s, that we established our family’s philanthropic plan. We determined we could give more – and we wanted to. We started by giving 5% of our income, but over time, we decided to strive to give 10%. We also committed to volunteering a certain amount of time, but frankly, time was more precious to us at that point than money, so we focused more on sharing money, not as much on time.

We came up with those goals from what we had learned. As a child, with my family’s active involvement in church, I knew the expectation was to tithe, or give 10%. My wife was raised in a different religious tradition, but was also fully committed to our long-term goal. That first year we gave $1,000 to the United Way, matching that generous donor, and then determined where we would give the rest of our cash philanthropy, or 5% of our income. Thirty years later, we realized that we had long ago passed the 10% goal, and since, we have exceeded that percentage. It was easy. We never missed it. I could continue with clichés about giving, but in our life, we know them to be true.

I share our story not to suggest what others should do. We each have unique traditions for giving based on culture, religion, and family history. We also have unique challenges to balance the checkbook. However, I do suggest that giving should be intentional, and that finding the right amount to share is important. All religions support sharing. Regardless of how it’s labeled – tithing, Zakat (the Muslim tradition), or the act of Tikkum Olum (Judaism), all faiths encourage people to give.

Thanks to living in Alaska, I now understand that the need to share precedes organized religion. Subsistence is rooted in sharing. Subsistence is as old as humankind. Some people may only think of subsistence as hunting, fishing, harvesting. However, in traditional communities, sharing is as, or more important, as gathering. It has always been that way and as long as these communities thrive, it will continue. The need to share is so ingrained in those cultures, it is such an overpowering expectation, there is no thought about not sharing.

So why do we share? Is it because we are taught to share? Yes! Is it because it is good to share? Yes! And we share because it is in our self-interest to share. Humans have survived by sharing their abundance today because that act provides us all the insurance we need that if in the future we don’t have enough, others with abundance will share in return. Sharing is a survival strategy. When we share, we are human. The more we share the more human we become.

And that’s the point.

Does your family have a philanthropy plan? Have you identified the most important organizations in your life and determined how much of your abundance you can share? If so, do you let your children know that you give money and time to support your community? Is part of your plan to Lovalaska and Pick.Click.Give.? Have you encouraged your children to share a little through Pick.Click.Give.?

We are one month into Pick.Click.Give. For some unknown reason, many Alaskans have yet to file online for their Permanent Fund Dividend. And, unfortunately, due to a glitch in the PFD registration program, some of those who did file early had difficulty getting to the link to Pick.Click.Give.

So I especially urge everyone who reads this to either:

  • Get online right now and file and Pick.Click.Give. to your favorite nonprofits, or
  • If you filed but didn’t give, go back online and give, or
  • If you filed and gave, connect to at least ten of your friends and encourage them to file and give.

This is a simple and effective way to start your philanthropy plan, as well as a brilliant way for parents of young children to introduce sharing. We know from many stories how parents have used this tool. Some of the best-supported nonprofits in Pick.Click.Give. resonate with children – like those that provide services for animals.

I was a lucky child. My family and community taught me to share. Alaska Native children are lucky because their families and communities teach them to share. I have the honor to know many of our other neighbors that were as lucky. Unfortunately, not everyone is.

However, we are never too old to learn. Don’t worry about how much to give. Only give what you can. Once you take the first step and give a few dollars or a little time, reflect on what, if anything, happened as a result. If you are like me, at a minimum, you will feel good. Then when you share again, and again, over time, you will see what humans have always known – when you give, you receive…back to the clichés.