img_0068Each student in the Strategic Philanthropy class was given $10 at the end of the first day of class. Their sole objective was to “do good” with the funds over the next week. Every student reported out on their experience in the classroom setting.

My perception of the value of 10 dollars is radically altered when looking at it under different circumstances. Ten dollars for a meal? Too expensive to sustain regularity in a college budget. Ten dollars for a shirt? It’s a deal! Ten dollars freely given with the intent of doing good? Influential, to say the least. When originally confronted with the assignment, I was enthused and confident that I would complete it with dignity and flair.

Given 10 dollars, I felt I must give it away in a groundbreaking display of philanthropy. That is an overly glorified explanation of what we were tasked to do, but that’s essentially how I viewed the exercise. I was hopeful that in donating the 10 dollars extravagantly, I could engender the most beneficial effect. Immediately, my mind began to swirl with possibilities and I found myself envisioning grand plans for the worn, crinkled bill safeguarded in my wallet.

Because it was not money of my own, I felt a compounded pressure to be a wise and responsible steward. What could possibly be worthy of my 10 dollars? Therein the problem lied. The first few days the sum was in my care, I devoted unreasonable amounts of energy attempting to determine the most perfect, impactful, grandiose cause. Consequently, I missed the true worth in what philanthropy is all about.

In overlooking the ordinary to solely emphasize the extraordinary, I neglected to recognize that day-to-day philanthropy is just as crucial, if not even more so, than the philanthropy we read about in the news. We are each charged with resources, the amounts of which doesn’t alter the obligations we have to serve and to not only disseminate prosperity, but to save lives, to relieve needs. I’ve come to know that no matter the numbers on your bank statement, the necessity and desire for philanthropy does not diminish. Relationships are forged and morale is strengthened when investments are made in time, energy, and attention in addition to funds.

We often witness calls for sweeping reform, widespread shifts in ideology and practice, yet we each fail each day in our own right. We fail to hold up our end of the bargain, we fail to fundamentally understand our role in the bigger picture. I concede that most of us are not as powerful or wealthy as the Andrew Carnegies and Bill Gateses of this world, but that in no way eliminates our power to do good with what we’ve been given.

“Do good.” That was our simple assignment. Never did the professor lay out parameters or benchmarks for what qualified as “good.” Never did he express any possibility of disappointment in our philanthropic endeavors should we fall short of expectations. No. All that was said was “Do good with this 10 dollars.” There’s something haunting in the simplicity of the charge. In fact, my mind translated the simple and joyful task into something stressful and wrought with ambition. I set out to impress rather than to bless, and that was a major flaw in my strategy.

After days of wrestling with the endless possibilities before me, a paradigm shift occurred in my approach. I felt convicted for deeming local and daily opportunities unworthy of this bill. I realized I was ascribing unfounded prestige upon the 10 dollars, imposing a haughty demeanor on the money. It was then that I began to grasp what living in a posture of philanthropy entails. It does not boast and does not need attention to bear worth. I then was enlightened to the idea that the most glorious gifts and donations are those that are presented with grace, humility and love.

Loving people does not look like a huge check flung at those in need. Loving people does not look like showy gestures inflicted to enhance the giver’s vanity. Love is not a competition, especially when everyone does his or her part. In its own context, philanthropy is an expression of love and a demonstration of genuine regard for others.

by Natalie Braun ’19