“Teach your children well.” A big Crosby Stills Nash and Young fan, I sang that line hundreds, if not thousands, of times in my “youth”. I sang that line thousands of time to myself as I raised my son. And it has flashed through my brain thousands of times more as I witnessed parents doing well and not so well with teaching their children and it has inspired some previous blogs
It had been rolling around my head a lot of late as I continue to think about the challenge of raising new philanthropists. But it was at an intolerable decibel level yesterday as I learned of some parents at a Philadelphia suburban school district who had allegedly planned on “sickening” their children while on a field trip on the cruise Spirit of Philadelphia, and then turning around and suing the cruise company. Talk about teaching your children! There is an “evil force” out there, beyond immediate gratification and excessive consumption and the world of “me”, with which we must contend as we seek our future philanthropists.
Understand that I define a philanthropist not by how much s/he gives, but by the fact that s/he gives at all of his/her money and/or time, and by the fact of caring to bring about a better world for all. As I have confessed before in the pages of this blog, it was a concern that loomed especially large for me when my son was born: how would we, his mother and father who are deeply committed to giving back and helping others, make sure that our son, who was growing up in a society where children expect to be given so much and in a community of relative affluence, would become a philanthropist? He is 22 now, and I am happy to report that we succeeded, and quite well, if I say so myself. But my worry moved on, quite some time ago, well beyond my son, to his generation and those that followed.
How do we teach children to be engaged in the communities where they will live and work, to want to help improve the quality of life, not just for themselves but for all of those around them? As nonprofits everywhere are working harder and harder to raise money for the now and the next year, what are we doing now to ensure that there will be donors ten, twenty or thirty years from now? And we must start now, for if we wait until we need them, they won’t be there.
We each take our own path to becoming a philanthropist. For some, it is what our parents taught us, directly with speeches and indirectly by example. For others, it is a life-changing moment as you confront a life-threatening illness or watch an animal or human being abused or see your life in color for the first time while seeing a painting or a theatre, music or dance performance. For others, it is requirement to do community service that turns out to be fun and enriching rather than the anticipated dread.
As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, we have clear options in our role as teachers and examples. But nonprofits that need these philanthropists, what are we doing to ensure that the cart to our horse will be there for us in the future? What are we doing for the collective children of our communities?
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.