Educating Future Philanthropists

Posted on 28 March 2012

Yesterday, we discussed Invisible Children and the potential for future philanthropists to be turned off by the controversy over its Kony 2012 video. It is a personal issue for me as a not only a fundraising professional and nonprofit donor myself, but more importantly as a father of a 2-year old son who I want to teach about the importance of philanthropy.

All of this got me thinking about the best methods for introducing philanthropy to a younger generation. I think the Kony 2012 situation reveals some of the limits of “clicktivism,” with its immediate, but tenuous, engagement with a cause. Invisible Children did a tremendous job of reaching a younger generation where they reside online, but real philanthropy comes when people first understand what is important to them, and then find a philanthropic outlet to affect positive change. It’s not simply stirring up the emotions of a large audience and getting them to support a cause, it’s connecting a nonprofit’s mission to a donor’s own set of beliefs and values.

These concepts are difficult to introduce to children, but leave it to someone who works everyday with elementary school kids to figure out a great way to achieve this.

At Spencer Borden Elementary School in Fall River, MA, school counselor Annie Palumbo started an after-school Philanthropy Club for 20 grammar-school children, and undertook the daunting task of teaching kids the concept of philanthropy. Instead of telling them what philanthropy is supposed to be, and rather than selecting a cause for them to tackle, Palumbo thought up a simple exercise that should stand as the first step for anyone trying to teach children about philanthropy:

“On the first day I told (the students) to break up into groups and decide what we can do to help the community,” Palumbo said. “They all came up with ideas on their own and then we talked about which options best fit what we could do and which would make a difference . . . I thought if I decided what projects we would do it wouldn’t mean as much as what they thought was important to them and to the community.”

Brilliant. I can’t think of a more basic, yet deeply fundamental, description of the nature of philanthropy.

One of the first causes the group decided to tackle was litter. They didn’t try to “raise awareness” or hold a fundraiser to help some established cause. Instead, they put on gloves, walked to a nearby park, and started picking up the litter scattered about. They embodied the quote from Walt Disney we’ve mentioned before: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

And if you think this exercise didn’t instill the proper appreciation for the power of philanthropy, just ask fourth-grader Brianna Raposo why she and her classmates got involved:

“We don’t want the Earth to be yucky, because if we do, it’s not going to be good environment to live in.”

Spoken like a true philanthropist!!

1 Response to Educating Future Philanthropists

  • OK, now we’re talking!

    “They didn’t try to ‘raise awareness’ or hold a fundraiser to help some established cause. Instead, they put on gloves, walked to a nearby park, and started picking up the litter scattered about.”

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