A Philanthropist is Born

I remember when I first started to receive an allowance from my parents around seven, and was excited about the prospect of a known amount of money coming to me each week.  I also remember their expectation that I would, in turn, put half of that sum in the church collection plate on Sunday morning.  (This expectation was further reinforced by allowance being distributed on Saturday evenings!)  While I likely could have pocketed the half that was to go to church, I do not think it ever occurred to me as I had witnessed my parents’ “giving back” behavior and just assumed this was standard practice when you had money.  Besides I had those cool collection envelopes and wanted to make certain that —just like my friends did — I turned one in each week.  (I might add that peer pressure and mechanisms like weekly envelopes are still effective in encouraging philanthropic support.)

In later years when I came to realize that how I spent or invested my money really was my choice, I also knew that some sort of philanthropic activity would likely always be on my list of priorities…especially since I had chosen a profession that required me to encourage others to support worthwhile causes.  It really is considerably easier to ask someone to make a voluntary gift of support to an organization if you have already done so yourself.

As someone reared in a Christian home, I am also familiar with the concept of tithing or “contributing a tenth of one’s income especially to the church.”  Early in my full-time earning years, I enjoyed completing my tax returns (as it was still relatively simple) to see how close I came to giving that 10%.  Now, with the help of an accountant, I still have a great sense of accomplishment and joy when my philanthropy for any given year exceeds my personal commitment to give away at least ten percent of my annual gross income to causes in which I believe.

While it’s true that I find giving money away a joyful experience, I also believe that philanthropy represents one of the greatest forms of democracy in the world. One can seek to support whatever organizations one wants for whatever reasons.  So, though I no longer give half of my allowance or even a tenth of my income directly to a church, the habits of philanthropy I learned during my childhood years have served both me and the institutions I choose to support quite well.

Patricia Jackson
Vice President for Development
Smith College

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