Why I Give

“No contribution is too small.” – Marlo Thomas

Last week I traveled to Indianapolis to attend a meeting of the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council. During the meeting the Council heard presentations from 20 grant applicant finalists who requested funds for worthy university projects and initiatives across the Indiana University campuses. Grants are generally awarded to projects which have a focus on women’s leadership, STEM, global and service learning experiences, public health, diverse and underserved populations, and projects that foster a culture of philanthropy.

It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of this Council for the last three years which is comprised of a dynamic, dedicated, and inspired group of women. When friends and colleagues hear about my involvement with the Council and its purpose, they inevitably comment on its incredible mission and how terrific it is that I contribute to such a worthwhile cause. But the truth is, I receive far more than I give.

At a fundamental level, the highest purpose we can have as humans is to help others and make our world a better place for all who inhabit it. We all contribute to this grand purpose in our own way either by volunteering time, making a monetary contribution, offering our talents to a worthy project that is close to our heart, or any other myriad of opportunities in our daily lives. Over the years I have found that meaningful engagement and the ability to see measured impact has been the most important factors in deciding where I donate. But what I have also learned is that the most impactful philanthropy is very personal. When someone has meaning behind his or her giving they are more engaged, more likely to encourage others to be engaged, and that will likely lead to countless opportunities not only for the recipients, but also for the people donating. If there is emotion and connection behind giving, it will be sustained because it is meaningful.

The day where the grant applicants appear before the Council and formally apply for funding is one of the single most inspiring days of my entire year. Watching the applicants lay out their innovative projects, past successes, and future goals, and knowing we have an opportunity to be a small part of helping them further their missions is beyond meaningful. It is more than writing a check. It is being a piece of a very large puzzle that has a collective voice and spirit which seeks to move the world in a more positive direction one small step at time. Knowing that I am able to contribute in a very small way to some very big initiatives with lofty goals is humbling and powerful.

We often think of philanthropy as something only reserved for those who have enough money to establish private foundations or donate enough funds to have their name put on a building. The truth is that we do not need to donate millions of dollars in order to have positive impact on something or someone. Finding ways to give which align with our values in ways that can have impact and meaning are far more important than the amount you give.

That is philanthropy. And that is why I give.