What is philanthropy?

Philanthropy (n):

  1. The love of humanity;
  2. The desire to promote the welfare of others

ORIGIN early 17th century; via late Latin from Greek philanthrōphia from philanthrōpos ‘man-loving’.

Today, I love philanthropy.

I love the act. I love the meaning. I love the empowerment.

But I didn’t always.

Oh – I’ve given my hard earned dollars to causes I cared about. I’ve spent time volunteering halfway around the world. I’ve sat in countless board meetings hashing out the details of upcoming events…but I never considered myself a philanthropist.

Or, at least, I would never have used that word.

No. Philanthropy was reserved for Rockefellers, Clintons, and Gates. I’m from a small, rural community in Western Alaska – no philanthropist ever came from my home town.

Oh, how wrong I’ve been.

My earliest memories are of kind strangers helping my sister and I find comfort as unaccompanied minors on Alaska Airlines flights. The pilots sharing their wings as we sipped ginger ale and laughed at the antics of flight attendants.

I have [now] fond memories of my father, stopping on long dusty roads to help stranded motorists change a flat tire or Elders sharing with us whale and preserved greens, explaining how they had been the recipients of friends and family members sharing bountiful harvests.

I had no idea that philanthropy was bigger and broader than writing a check.

After all my days picking up trash with Rotary and serving Thanksgiving dinner with Girl Scouts, I would never have defined philanthropy without the dollars signs before the definition. But now I know that those kind strangers, those caring flight attendants, my father…almost every Alaskan I know, is a philanthropist.

So I leave you with this question: How are you a philanthropist?