By Elizabeth Dove, Development Director
The season of giving is upon us! As someone who has built a career within philanthropy, I must admit, I didn’t fully understand its meaning, or rather, had a misconception of what it meant to be philanthropic. It wasn’t until I literally stumbled into my line of work, that I started to see that my family culture of giving and our contributions to the world were just that, philanthropy.
Having gone to parochial school my entire life, I equated fundraising with selling stuff: chocolate, ALMOND ROCA (still can’t stand the stuff) and finding sponsors for the jog a thon. I distinctly recall my senior year in high school, turning in my final Almond Roca sales packet, with a skip in my step, relishing the feeling that I would NEVER have to fundraise ever again…and here I sit, the Development Director at Park Academy where my number one job task is to, you got it, raise money. But here’s the thing, I didn’t know what fundraising really was when I giddily dropped off my bare minimum, required sales form. You see, I thought fundraising = sales…and I’m not interested in selling anything. I did the bare minimum amount required of me, and was never driven by the incentives or prizes to do more.
You know what I did find fun? Volunteering! In high school, administrators were testing out service hour requirements for students. That meant that once or twice a week, we would go to a local Catholic grade school that couldn’t afford a PE teacher and my classmates and I would teach the class. It was really a glorified recess, a lot of kick ball, but I thought it was a great reason to get off of campus and hang out with some kids and my classmates. We would also go to the local retirement home and visit with the residents, many of whom didn’t have any family left and had very few visitors. As a kid who loved history and story telling, I really enjoyed my time with them. The other opportunities to serve were plentiful, always allowing me to help someone less fortunate than myself.
Serving people less fortunate than me was (and still is) a part of my family’s culture. I recall going to church on the holidays with food boxes for the poor, gifts for our “adopted family”, filling barrels with needed items, writing letters to the imprisoned, the list was endless. My grandparents even sponsored refugee families who had fled their native home from persecution for their beliefs, all of whom now have third generation family members made up of doctors and lawyers who are giving back themselves. These things always served as reminders to my sisters and I that not every child got a private education, ballet lessons and the coolest new Walkman. We weren’t rich by any means, my parents sacrificed a lot. These reminders weren’t to make us feel bad that there were people with less than we had, but to be cognizant of it and to look for how we could help others.
It was in college, while I was working on my senior project for my degree, that I learned about philanthropy. I had always thought of philanthropy as huge donations of money to endow chairs at universities and name athletic stadiums, not something that I was doing by contributing a food box or pulling ivy. The dictionary defines philanthropy as “altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons…”. Or in simpler terms, using your time (volunteering), talent (services) and treasures (resources) to help others.
Back to college – my senior project required that I intern at a nonprofit. I applied for a PAID intern position (so cool) and got it. I was a little apprehensive because it was for the fundraising department. But the job was primarily data entry, so I thought I could collect the info I needed, do some work for them, get paid and when my time was done, go about my life. Little did I know what this job would shape my career aspirations.
Through my superiors, I learned that fundraising isn’t about selling stuff. I learned that fundraising, an essential piece in philanthropy, it’s about people. It’s about all of those things that I loved around service, feeling good about brightening someone else’s day, “seeing” people who are often invisible, being kind in a world that feels like it is becoming harsher every day. Realizing your privilege and giving back to those who are in need. And yes, that often comes in the form of cold hard cash. But I also saw everyday the impact someone has, whether they make a major gift, donate $10, sponsor a party for a group of kids, buys a winter jacket for someone who doesn’t have one, or rakes up a bazillion leaves. These acts of philanthropy, of kindness, meant the world to the young people we served who were struggling with their mental health.
Fast-forward 14 years, here at Park Academy, philanthropy is very much alive and well and growing! We are so grateful to all of you who see our students everyday, who honor their stories by being a part of their lives. Who feel good about ensuring that the young people in our building are getting the education they need and deserve. The people who spend their time with us: volunteering in the classroom, helping at events, answering the front desk phone, we thank you. The people who spend their time making us stronger by teaching professional development to our staff, who help us with our accounting or legal needs, we are grateful. The people who invest in our students futures so that some day, they can be of service to our community, we are forever indebted to you.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!