While driving to work today, I was listening to an NPR interview with Peter Buffett, son of billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett. During the interview, Peter mentions that he and his siblings each received $1 billion from their father to use specifically for charitable endeavors. This money was entrusted to them as adults which resulted in Peter and his wife dedicating “several years researching how to be most effective as philanthropists.” So, what if that research begins earlier in life? Could early involvement further promote the emerging practice of high impact philanthropy?
Two weeks ago on Earth Day, we began our Youth Perspectives in Philanthropy series which highlights the activities and ideas of young adults involved in teen philanthropy programs. Parts of this series will also be reposted on the eJewish Philanthropy website. Erica Cafritz, an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and research assistant at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, was the first to share her thoughts on how philanthropy has already become an important part of her life. Erica is also an alumna of the Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute (JYPI), a program of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning (PJLL).
Continuing the topic centered around the questions, “What does the word ‘philanthropy’ mean to you? Do you consider yourself a ‘philanthropist?'”, we have two more youth perspectives, both from individuals who are currently involved in Leah Siskin’s, JYPI 201 teen funders group.
In an interview with Bill Moyers (see: The Power of Myth), American mythologist Joseph Campbell describes the “ascent of the spirit” through different “stages of experience.” “One begins,” Campbell says, “with the elementary experiences of hunger and greed, and then of sexual zeal, and onto physical mastery of one kind or another.” These are all appetitive needs that the makeup of our DNA demands we meet. Life at these stages can be an empowering, individual experience. You can still live a relatively pleasant, unaffected life. But “when the center of the heart is touched, and a sense of compassion awakened with another person or creature, and you realize that you and that other are in some sense creatures of the one life in being, a whole new stage of life in the spirit opens out.” You come upon a different life experience entirely. When you open up your heart, you go further spiritually than your genetic makeup would indicate possible. You begin a “life consuming quest for a full experience” of that ecstasy, that feeling of being greater than yourself. That is why I became a philanthropist.
Two years ago, when I first joined the JYPI program, I existed on those first stages of experience. I had participated in community service in the past. I cleaned up creeks, performed at retirement homes, and donated a couple of dollars here and there to various causes. But ever since I first stepped through those double doors to our Jewish Community Center, my heart has opened up. I’ve heard proposals from firefighters who look up street addresses in a coffee-stained binder. I’ve listened to the first-hand story of a young man from the DC public school system, who felt like for the first time someone really cared about him. I have borne witness to tormenting accounts of child soldiering in Northern Uganda. I have cried. And in each of these cases, I have made a difference. I am involved with philanthropy because ever since I walked through those double doors they bolted shut behind me. I am in the midst of a “life consuming quest,” making a difference one grant proposal at a time.
Being a philanthropist is not an easy task. It is not just those people with the big bucks writing enormous checks to any nonprofit that comes knocking on their door. It is people who give time, effort, and dedication to change the world.
I have been giving money to charity ever since I was a little kid—a penny here, a nickel there—into the little box until it was full. It was like a piggy bank for charities. The bank would be emptied every once in a while when a charity came to my school and asked us to bring in our little boxes and donate the money. As a young child, this is what philanthropy was to me: giving money to whoever asked for it.
When I became involved in the Jewish Youth Philanthropy Institute (JYPI) in high school, my view of philanthropy began to expand. Philanthropy became a process in which I was a part of: deciding how my money, my fellow members’ money, and community money would be best spent. The decision of where to donate our money was something we JYPI members had to debate using the information we had acquired about the organization in the grant proposals, in the presentation, through our pros and cons lists, and by discussing it with our friends and family. Philanthropy became something that I had to use my heart and my mind for. Through JYPI, I experienced the difficult decision-making process of selecting where to allocate my money, giving it only to those organizations I know would use it best—to those organizations I know would make an impact in the world.