Monday, May 28, 2007

An Easy Way to be a Philanthropist

What is your definition of a "philanthropist?" Do you conjure up thoughts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, billionairres committed to changing healthcare and poverty global-wide? Do you think of men like Rockefeller or Carnegie, industrialists who made so much money that it still goes to work today? How about the wife of McDonald's legend Ray Kroc who left millions upon millions in her estate to benefit education and other charities?

Do you ever think of the plumber who lives across the street? How about your mailman? Your hairdresser? Yourself?

WordNet defines "philanthropist" as someone who makes charitable donations intentended to increase human well-being. The American Heritage Dictionary has a similar definition: The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations. Note: Neither definition describes how much one has to give to be considered a philanthropist. My favorite description is "the love of humankind in general."

Anyone can be a philanthropist. It simply means you give to help others, primarily because it is the right thing to do.

I was recently watching a news show and it profiled an innovative charitable organization that is nearly entirely web-based called that allows teachers to post needed items for their classrooms. In an era of substantial educational budget cuts, many teachers are in need of equipment and educational resources for their classrooms. This is particularly true in poverty-stricken areas, inner cities, and areas hit by disasters such as school districts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The items posted are for things any philanthropically-minded person could support on any budget. Donors can search for projects to support based on geographic region, subject, special needs, amount needed for funding, or type of program. Donors can donate any amount that can fully fund a program or partially support a program. When doing a search, one can see what percentage is needed to complete a grant request.

The theory is simple: Teachers Ask. Donors Choose. Students Learn.

There are hundreds of requests to browse through. And making a donation to support an interesting project does not require a major gift. This is an extremely easy way for someone to make an online tax-deductible gift that can truly make a difference, even if the gift is small. Many of the projects can be fully funded with a donation for less than $200. Any project can be funded in part by donating $10 or $20.

Be on the lookout for a thank you note and a photo from the children you supported. Teachers are encouraged to communicate the results with donors of how your gift was put to use.

Have kids? Consider introducing them to the idea of charitable giving by having them select a project to fund with their allowance once a month. Make a gift to support these programs in honor or memory of someone. Want a creative way to recognize a special teacher? Donate to a project in that teacher's name. is one of the easiest ways I've seen for someone to make a gift in an amount comfortable for themself but have the opportunity to target it to a special program. Many charities would prefer unrestricted gifts, so if giving for a specific purpose to help children with their education is something of value, check out the website. Better yet, play around and actually make a donation. Not only will you feel good about your gift, you may be inspired by the creativity American teachers are demonstrating in an effort to help this country's most challenged students become interested and engaged in their learning. To date, nearly $13 million has been donated to 568,670 students just through

If you are building your own charitable giving website, give some thought to:
  • Posting specific needs
  • Allowing donors to restrict their gift to fund a specific project
  • Allowing donors to make full or partial donations
  • Display how much is needed to fully complete a project (take the % one step further and use a flash-based gauge to visually demonstrate progress)
  • Browse projects
  • Set up a gift registry so people may select projects they want to fund and friends can make a gift to support those favorite projects
  • Establish a giving blog that allows donors to spread your charity's message to their own personal readers
  • Make online giving simple with easy to follow steps
  • Make it personal; have the beneficiaries write personal thank you notes
  • Offer your donors a widget to download from your website; You can send updates via the widget to show how much money has been raised, send gift giving reminders, share a great story and keep people in touch with your message and organization
  • Allow your donors to interact with you and help spread your message virally
  • Create a MySpace page where donors committed to your organization can have your organization as a friend
  • Provide donors with items (i.e. your logo with a key message, wallpaper, etc.) that they can copy the coding for their own MySpace page

There are endless ways you can create opportunities to interact with your donors and constituents. Find your favorite charities online and look at what they do to keep you engaged. Then look for ways your own organization can replicate the concepts. Be innovative and creative. Try to make charitable giving something fun for people of all means to become philanthropists and help humankind.

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