I’m happy to start off the first Thursday in June 2010 with another installment of our Youth Perspectives in Philanthropy series which has been highlighting ideas from the JYPI 201 Teen Funders Group, a program of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning (PJLL). The focus has been on the word “philanthropy” and what it means to these young people. Our team at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy has been curious how the word is perceived among members of our audience, based on our findings from a September 2008 study, I’m Not Rockefeller. In our interviews with 33 donors—individuals who reported annual gifts ranging from a minimum of $100,000 to an average of $1,500,000—we found that nearly one-third of these individuals did not identify with the label of “philanthropist.” So, now we’re asking: What does philanthropy mean to you?
I could begin with a concrete definition of philanthropy, but perceptions of what philanthropy is and the simple act of giving resonates differently with everyone. I do not think of philanthropy as charity. Giving money to the needy is great, but using time and money to direct people to a better life is the goal of a philanthropist. The challenge for philanthropists is deciding where they should direct their resources. How does someone choose between helping two or more worthy causes? I have been faced with this challenge through my involvement with JYPI.
JYPI has been a part of my life for the past two years. I have participated in programs, including the service learning summer program, the youth philanthropy program, and worked as a JYPI office intern. JYPI has introduced me to nonprofits locally and worldwide that do everything from providing therapy and other psychological services to war affected children, educational assistance to children from DC to Israel, and to many organizations that with some financial resources could expand their help to a wider community of people. Who am I to judge if a group of children devastated by rocket attacks in Israel needs their grant funded more than a local fire department that was looking up addresses in a torn, outdated book of maps? Is it more important to help the causes closer to me in proximity? The reality for a philanthropist is that for every act of altruism they do, there will always be thousands of other causes that are just as worthy.
JYPI has opened me up to the aspects of philanthropy that I never would have considered before. This year, we were asked to set our own funding priorities and to consider what aspects of a project the grant money was going to. I was challenged to realize that many times the cost of overhead is just as important to fund as a specific project. We had heated debates about the organizations we were considering and had to learn how to come to a consensus. The best thing I took away from JYPI is that no matter where our money went, it helped to make a difference.
Philanthropy is a way for anyone to change the future. Anyone, even a group of teenagers on a Sunday afternoon, can make decisions that will help heal the world.
When I first heard the word, “philanthropy”, I thought it was when people sat around their kitchen table and sorted organizations that asked for money in a “yes” or “no” sort of fashion. Turns out, it is more complex than that. After experiencing and studying the ways of philanthropy with JYPI, I have come to the conclusion of what philanthropy is all about in my mind. There are two types of philanthropy. The first kind of philanthropy is when someone sits down at their kitchen table and indeed sorts the organizations that ask for money that they feel is the most important. Going even further than that, an individual will look up the organization’s mission and what projects they wish to do, in order for the individual to realize how well-organized and well-developed the organization is. The second kind of philanthropy is group philanthropy, a group of people deciding together, usually in an overall consensus. In the past, I have only known the first kind of philanthropy, but I was lucky enough to be able to experience the second kind of philanthropy with JYPI, since they offer their Youth Philanthropy program for post B’nai Mitzvah teens. This I found to be quite challenging because my group and I had to learn to really listen to each other and compromise in the end. Eventually, when we came our funding session, we wrote down the pros and cons for each organization and also decided to see how well the organization was based on the Mitzvah ladder, how they presented to us, how relevant their request was, and so on. For any type of philanthropist, the question of “will my money that I send be put into good use” rolls through the mind because no one would want to send money somewhere and it is not used in the way someone thought initially.