Passing on the Special Gift of Giving!
by Tricia Herban
One of my Best Way To Get Over A Ex Boyfriend childhood memories is the time when I was standing next to my Dad’s desk while he was writing checks. He had papers everywhere and I had no idea what he was doing. It looked as if he was paying bills, but I didn’t know. So I remember asking that most basic of all questions, “Daddy, what are you doing?”
He not only answered my question, he shared some of his philosophy of life. “I’m making a donation, a contribution. My friend Jim called the other day and asked me to contribute to the museum. He started to tell me all about it, but I told him that if he thinks it is important and if he believes it is a good organization—then that’s all I need to hear.” Then he concluded, “So, I asked him how much he wanted me to give and now, I’m sending him the check.”
My Dad didn’t make a speech, he just answered my question. But that one incident taught me that it is important to give back to society when and where you can. Further, it taught me that even if a cause isn’t my personal cause, there are times to support your friends and it is appropriate to give to their causes. I do that today by attending charity events, by making donations when someone is participating in a run for breast cancer or Crone’s disease, and by making memorial contributions.
Charity and giving are of special interest to me because I used to be a professional fundraiser. In fundraising, there is a basic tenet: “Givers give.” The corollary is that nongivers don’t give. In other words, if someone hasn’t taught you that it is important to make a pledge to your religious affiliate or to give to your college, for example, you are not likely to do it. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that one of the reasons for the success of United Way is that through the business community, it was possible to strongly persuade nongivers to give. They have a powerful role model – not their parents — but their peers and their bosses. Of course, there was the further incentive of payroll deduction, which made contributing less painful!
I know a wealthy woman who took a very creative approach to helping her grandchildren understand their responsibilities to society. Because they were growing up in very comfortable surroundings, she was afraid that they were too comfortable and not sensitive to the real world beyond their doors. This was an issue for her because she and her husband were very generous with both their time and their “treasure.” In fact, they were known for this in the philanthropic community. She hit on a way to inspire her grandchildren to do likewise.
She told them that they would receive a holiday gift from her, but that they could not keep it. They had to identify a cause to receive the money. She instructed them that they would have to explain to her why they chose that recipient. And then, their reward would be that they could give the gift in their own names. As it turned out, the first year, the older sister decided that her younger sister should be the recipient! That was a bit of a surprise to the grandmother, but it put into practice the idea of charity beginning at home—just not quite the way she had planned!
Another approach worked well for one of my new Annapolis friends. Whenever one of her children had a birthday, they received presents. After the dust had settled, they were asked to select one of their toys—an old one in good condition or a newly received one, it didn’t matter which. Then the family delivered it to a local facility for mentally challenged children.
There are other ways to teach about charity. When I ring bells for Salvation Army in December, parents frequently give their children coins or even bills to shove into the kettle. These gifts are always met with a warm response and no doubt help the kids to realize that they are contributing to help other people.
When I was a child and went to church, I was expected to make a commitment to give a weekly amount. I was being asked to do something just as the grown-ups were. And for years, I put my quarter into the collection plate each week. By that simple gesture, I felt united with the adults, and with the community in that place, and beyond those walls, with the community of people in the world whose needs might be met through my gift in combination with many others.
As a Girl Scout, I sold cookies door to door. At the time I thought the point of the project was learning to be honest and to do accurate record keeping. I had missed the larger point, that it was raising money to support the Girl Scouts. Nevertheless, I was making a contribution. Thinking back, I remember the UNICEF boxes that were taken door to door on Halloween. The children who held them up for pennies or nickels were asking for gifts for others instead of themselves. Again, a simple lesson, but an important one.
These lessons sometimes take root without our knowing it. As our son grew up, he was mildly interested in causes, but money was tight, so he was his own primary cause. That was until Scott, a close friend from high school days, died from a brain tumor, leaving two young children fatherless. Joe and his buddies got together and started a golf tournament. It is called Scooter’s Tournament after Scot’s nickname. Each year it is a little more successful. And it grows because through their love for Scott, they found a cause that means something personal to each of them.
Our granddaughter, Hailey, is 13 months old now. This was the second holiday season that we made a gift in her name to Heifer International — a flock of chicks in 2007, a hive of bees in 2008. As Hailey gets older, she will come to understand that these gifts help others less fortunate to help themselves. In a few years, she will be old enough to choose what animal we donate. And by the time she starts school, we hope that she will make a personal contribution to help purchase the animal.
Perhaps you agree with me that the joy of giving is unlike anything else. The feeling of helping someone survive or get an education, of supporting an arts organization or medical research, is truly empowering. Giving is also an investment in the future. I find that the act of giving actually increases my faith in what the future will bring.
This is the same joy I hope to share with Hailey. For her life to have as much joy and meaning as possible, I hope to inspire her to give her time, her talent and, yes, her “treasure.”