The Philanthropist in all of Us

Rande Richardson

Philanthropy is a major part of what defines America. In the north country, philanthropy has enhanced our communities. Do you consider yourself a philanthropist? When the Community Foundation embarked on the concept of developing a philanthropy center, inspired from a similar model in Central New York, a friend’s response was: “I love the idea, but I wish you would call it something else.”

    For someone who has spent a significant time striving to make service to the place you live increasingly inviting, inclusive and diverse, I was taken aback, perhaps even a bit offended. I quickly realized that somewhere along the line, the word “philanthropy” had lost its true meaning in the Greek origin of the word: “love of humankind.”

    Make no mistake, there are wonderfully generous people who have the ability to give financially in support of philanthropy, and our communities are phenomenally better for it. I am fortunate to witness it nearly every day. Financial resources can and have accomplished great things; however, money alone does not define philanthropy. Without other elements of philanthropy, the impact is never as great nor as sustainable.

    Theoretically, everyone has the ability to love their fellow human beings. It is as simple as using any of your resources to make life better for other people. Time, energy, ideas and advocacy are something anyone can share. In fact, many north country citizens have already done this, and have for hundreds of years. Some of our region’s greatest institutions, programs, and nonprofit organizations were made possible because of philanthropy in all of its forms.

    Have you ever volunteered for a community organization or effort? Have you taken time to help someone without a thought of receiving something in return? Have you ever given blood? Have you been a volunteer coach or mentor? Have you provided support or encouragement to someone when they’ve experienced a difficulty or a loss? If so, you are a philanthropist.
    So, by definition the opportunity to be a philanthropist is available to all of us. At the Community Foundation, we’ve encouraged more people to participate through programs that have helped inspire children, youth and younger generations. We’ve created mechanisms that provide people of all means a seat at the table for community change. It has resonated. We’ve grown. We have philanthropists that never thought they could be, seeing the meaningful impact they never thought they could have. Together, we’ve created more opportunities for caring more, loving more, sharing more and helping others more through giving in all of its forms.

    I believe that by practicing philanthropy in the way we want to shape our community and our world, we lead happier, healthier lives. We must inspire and nurture the ability for everyone to know they’ve done something to make their community a better place for others, and themselves. Time, energy and ideas are things everyone with some skill or talent can share, and have the joy in giving them.

    We all have a stake in the failure or success of community philanthropy. I challenge you to be thoughtful, intentional and deliberate in the way you affect humankind, looking to do it in more stewarded, lasting ways. Be confident that you’ve got what it takes to use your life to fulfill the true meaning of the word in support of the things you are most passionate about

    So who gets to call themselves philanthropist? It is a concept and a title that is accessible to everyone. It is important to embrace the broadening “democratization” of philanthropy, widening the playing field, and send the message that we must continue our focus on giving in all ways, including volunteerism and nonprofit service and leadership as well as monetary. Without the passion and resources devoted to philanthropy, not only would our communities be less vibrant, so would each of our lives. The next time you hear the word philanthropy, I hope you see yourself, your family, your children and your friends as the catalysts for real change.

    Our time on this earth is relatively short. That should not stop us from aspiring to have our impact be enduring. Now that I think of it, being a center for philanthropy (in all the ways it is expressed) is exactly the right name, for the right cause, at exactly the right time.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.