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What Is Philanthropy? A rich concept but not just for rich people

Posted By Betsy Peterson, Learning to Give, Thursday, May 30, 2019
Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2019

Milo at eight years old gave three dollars to his dad’s friend who was starting an orphanage in Mexico. He got a personal note and a picture from a child who lived there. Milo was so excited, he learned everything he could about the town and the needs of the kids in the orphanage. When he was in high school, he and his friends planned fundraising activities in the community and arranged to visit the orphanage for three weeks so they could meet the kids and do maintenance projects together.

When Victoria was 11, her artwork was used on a flyer for a race that raised awareness of ALS. Her grandpa died of ALS, and she felt good about being part of the path to a cure. She started noticing and doing volunteer work for other nonprofits over the years. As an adult, she now has a marketing job with a health and wellness nonprofit, and she finds opportunities to involve kids as much as possible.

Ms. Clary’s second grade classroom learned about giving as they interacted with hunger-related nonprofits in the community. The year started with students feeling disconnected and unmotivated to learn. After group experiences learning from the staff at the homeless shelter, service projects helping at the soup kitchen, and reading and writing activities about hunger, the students could be seen working hard, helping one another, and caring about their classroom community. They were visibly kinder, more collaborative, and confident. They recognized that the larger community was there for them and they had a role in it. [Ms. Clary shares her perspective in this Youtube video.]

Milo, Victoria, and Ms. Clary’s students aren’t rich, but they each have something to give that makes a difference to them and to their community. They learned at a young age that giving time, talent, or treasure feels good, and they want to do more of it. Their teachers, families, and experiences nurture them and guide them to discover what they are capable of in the bigger world. The biggest strength of teaching young people about giving is they learn generosity, empathy, and smart work. These skills give them opportunities in the community and world today and in the future.

In the stories above, you don’t see the word philanthropy, but that is exactly what it is. When you read the word philanthropy do you assume it’s about money? Many people do. At Learning to Give, we teach philanthropy education, which is the “knowledge and practice of giving time, talent, or treasure and taking action for the common good.”

Over the 20+ years Learning to Give has been helping K-12 U.S. educators empower their students through philanthropy lesson plans and service-learning resources, we have debated whether we should drop the word philanthropy. Are we in danger of turning schools away before they even try a lesson because they misunderstand the word or think we are teaching about financial giving? Does the strategy of service-learning seem too complicated or scary? We have held firm to the vocabulary because we embrace the rich meaning of this concept that transforms lives. Kids can say Tyrannosaurus Rex after all.

More than ever before, young people from all backgrounds and experiences need connection to one another and to resources in their diverse communities. They need to feel they matter and have a voice in their present and future. Philanthropy education and service-learning give a purpose for their lives. Students learn about different needs and issues around them. They learn different ways they can take action to be agents of good.

What if the word philanthropy or the strategy of service-learning are blocking educators at the door of our website? Would the word generosity be more approachable? Who wouldn’t want to teach generosity or explore community at the same time they are teaching language arts or science? Whatever it is called, Learning to Give will continue to teach these concepts because data shows students engage more in learning and gain self-confidence when they see their generous actions matter. This internalization of generosity in community forms the underpinnings of an ongoing healthy civil society.

Learning to Give is a free educational online resource. The lesson plans and activities help students become engaged, active participants in their community by weaving service and kindness into curriculum we’re already teaching. Students are writing persuasive letters, reading about historical models of social good, and researching the missions of local nonprofits.  They are following passion and setting a life path of generosity.  

Tags:  philanthropy  service-learning 

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