Monday, February 1, 2010

Creating a Culture of Generosity

I read a great blog article today on http://www.change.org/ entitled "Establishing a Culture of Generosity."  It is part of a series on undergraduate social entrepreneurship.  I was fascinated first by the inherent inclusion of charitable giving in the overall concept of social entrepreneurship.  I very much like the idea that young people are philanthropically motivated and it appears that with the advent of social media, giving something back to the community, even the global community, is easier than ever.

The article implies that students are in an environment where they want to help one another. Greek organizations help each other and are duty-bound to give to charities. Student organizations have leveraged the desire to want to do something to make social change works well by mobilizing others to donate to a cause. Microgiving is the new trend, when a student simply needs to text in a code to make a $5 or $10 donation.

I am inspired by colleges and universities that encourage students to volunteer and to donate. In creating a culture of generosity, one needs to make sure to include all aspects of how someone can give. That includes gifts of manhours, skills, and money (the proverbial "time, talent and treasure"). I am inspired even more when parents begin to cultivate a philanthropic spirit in children. Parents can set an example by their own volunteer support, charitable attitude, and donations.  My favorite gifts to receive at Dayton Children's are those from kids who saved their birthday money or asked for donations to help sick kids rather than ask for presents for themselves at birthday time. 

Last year, we had an eight-year old girl, Allison, donate $250 to the NICU at Dayton Children's. She said, "I already have enough toys. I wanted to do something for the hospital because they saved my life when I was a baby." From a stewardship perspective, our NICU staff did everything right. When Allison came to make her donation, the entire staff came out to thank her and take pictures with her. They asked a new mom to bring her baby to the window so Allison could see how small she was at her own birth. The nurses presented Allison and her five-year old sister with tiny baby diapers for their dolls. We then invited the entire family to share their story on the annual Children's Miracle Network Telethon.  There is little doubt in my mind that this made a positive impression on Allison and she'll likely donate again and again because it made her feel good and important.  And she was.

The Peter Pan Children's Fund is an amazing organization that encourages children' to give to pediatric hospitals. By participating in the  Peter Pan Birthday Fund Club and collecting donations, the Peter Pan Children's Fund will match those gifts with an additional $100.

Churches can teach children about generosity by having kids participate in offerings. When I was growing up, we had our own tiny offering envelopes. My brothers and sisters and I would put in a quarter of fifty cents and these donations would be collected during Sunday School. 

I participated in Blue Birds and then Camp Fire USA growing up. These organizations, like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, instilled a sense of importance for volunteering. My dad was extremely active as a founding member of his Lions Club and we went to dozens of fundraisers and community service projects. For years, my mom was the epitome of a community volunteer. She and a friend managed a Storytime Workshop at the local library (my mom is an artist and she would illustrate stories as her friend told them...magical!). She was active in the church, a professional sorority, SPURS, and our school PTA. I hope parents are setting the same kind of example mine did about the importance of volunteering and donating time and resources.

Microgiving is the rage now with the ability to text donations. Mobile applications are being developed at lightening speed. Facebook Causes offer all types of innovative ways to mobilize donations. There are hundreds of examples of how people have raised money using Twitter. Charitable giving is fun and a cool thing to do, especially for college students. Philanthropy is an affordable thing to do.

The definition of philanthropy means caring for mankind. It is a myth that philanthropists are wealthy individuals capable of giving millions. Yes, those wonderful people do exist, but millions of people became philanthropists during the last few weeks following the earthquake in Haiti. It's not so much the amount of the gift but rather that you made a gift at all that makes you a philanthropist.

The visibility of giving is helping create a culture of generosity. It has people asking themselves, "What can I do?" It is setting the example for children to understand they have a moral obligation to help others in need. I encourage parents to help their kids find a cause to believe in and then find a way for them to volunteer or save their allowance or holiday gift money to make a donation. Whether that is animal welfare, the environment, sick children, global hunger is irrelevant. Something touches children and their first instinct is to want to help. By fostering that caring nature, you'll be creating a culture of generosity that can only grow as kids mature. When they reach college, that attitude to want to help, to want to make a change, to want to make a diference for others should be well entrenched. Colleges won't have to establish a culture of generosity. It will be just a natural part of the experience.

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