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Steven Crandell: Being a Philanthropist Without Money Is More Rewarding Than You Think

People say philanthropy is only for the rich. This is a lie.

When anyone gives anything with good heart, he or she becomes a philanthropist — a conduit and a catalyst for love.

Thanks to Google, I found an article from 1940 by Corinne Updegraff Wells. She gave a great example of “philanthropy without money.”

Writing for The Rotarian, Wells tells the story of “Mrs. B” who gave her neighbor, a gift of “48 Tuesday afternoons.”

“Once a week, except in August when she was away, Mrs. B. took the place of this mother (of three), who could not afford help and so had little opportunity for recreation. She darned stockings, told stories and played games with the youngsters, while the mother had a gloriously free afternoon.”

Darning socks may sound old-fashioned, but trusted child care remains a remarkable — and potentially transforming — gift to frazzled parents.

So if you think you have nothing to give, think again.

Off the top of my head, here’s an incomplete list of some other things we can give that do not involve money:

» A smile

» A greeting

» A helping hand

» An open-ended, open-hearted question

» A patient ear

» A please

» A thank you

» A kind thought

» A prayer

» A perfomance

(Remember “The Little Drummer Boy”? He practiced effective philanthropy through percussion.)

And of course, there are the three kinds of money-less philanthropy that create connection from isolation.

» Food — Eating is nice. But a far deeper pleasure comes from nourishing others. This nurturing can provide philanthropy on all levels — physical, social, spiritual and emotional. Just ask any woman who’s nursed a baby. Ask anyone who volunteers to deliver meals to seniors. Ask anyone who’s made the effort to care for and feed a homeless pet.

» Welcome — Giving is one of humanity’s most ancient forms of introduction. When we offer our hand to shake, our welcoming gaze to a newcomer’s eyes, we offer a sign of respect. A tangible kindness. Giving our good will builds relationships that form the very roots of community. This is the kind of philanthropy that turns strangers into neighbors.

» Respect — Acknowledging a perceived enemy as a bona fide fellow human is definitely a gift. Acknowledging a friend who has been disgraced or is simply down on his or her luck can be a significant boon.

And if you’re wondering what philanthropy actually means, here’s a nice definition from Karl Muth, a Next Gen philanthropist, author and volunteer:

The truth is — you don’t have to donate money or give property to practice philanthropy.

When we give of our time or our expertise, we are philanthropists.

When we use our imagination to understand, accept and include difference, we are philanthropists.

When we refuse to give up on our values, our family, our friends, our neighbors, our communities, our world, we are philanthropists.

If we are breathing, we have something to give. Even bestowing our attention on another person can make a difference.

And giving it with good heart will feel good.

As Corinne Wells writes, it doesn’t have to hurt:

“Many people have a Puritanical feeling that they are not giving unless they are sacrificing, which is akin to the old idea that unless medicine tasted bad it could have no virtue. Whereas the most acceptable giving is often simply the sharing of something of which we have a plentiful supply.”

What do you have in plentiful supply?

Think of how you can share it.

Then start your career in philanthropy now.

— Author and writer Steven Crandell helps integrate story and strategy for organizations, with nonprofit foundations a particular focus. “Thinking Philanthropy” aims to provide practical, thought-provoking ideas about giving. This article was cross-posted on Tumblr. Steven can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @stevencrandell. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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