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July 17, 2017

Am I a Philanthropist?

By Leslie Hartog

This question occurred to me as I was reading an article about “Harriet Lake, 95, local philanthropist, and hat enthusiast”. She was being honored for her lifelong support of the arts and her recent $2 million donation to the Orlando Ballet. Actually, two questions occurred to me: “Why do they always tell us people’s age?” and “Am I a philanthropist?”.

When you think about the slightly intimidating word philanthropist, names like Harriet Lake, Harris Rosen, and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind – wealthy people that write really big checks and do really big things – not regular people like me. Like Harriet, I wear many hats that fit me well – business woman, engineer, wife, mother, tennis enthusiast -- but I was not sure I could pull off philanthropist.

Merriam-Webster defines a philanthropist as a person who gives money and time to help make life better for other people. The definition does not say anything about the size of your wealth or the checks that you write or about how you volunteer. So, maybe I might be a philanthropist, and maybe you are one, too.

There are many ways to give back that suit varied interests, time availability, and wallet sizes. Everything counts, and no act is too small – as long as you are investing money or time to help make life better for others.

Donate Money -- give money, start a donor fund, payroll deduction, run or participate in a fundraiser.

Volunteer your time – at your child’s school, as a mentor, at a food bank, building a home, as professional services, or on a non-profit board.

Donate new or slightly used stuff – clothing, books, equipment, auction items, products or services.

Collective Impact Giving – programs that pool resources or give back % of sales programs, such as Amazon Smile, Tom’s shoes buy one/give one model, point of sale donations, or giving circles.

Collective impact giving broadens the definition of philanthropists, allowing relatively smaller donors to pool their resources and leverage their relationships for a big-check-sized impact. Technology and social media have led to more convenient and innovative ways to give back, tapping into consumer dollars with give back programs or combining donations from on-line and mobile fundraisers for a greater impact. Giving circles enable donors to pool their donations and have more choice and involvement in grant decisions, while becoming more effective and engaged philanthropists.

Philanthropy starts with understanding the needs of your community and finding a way to help that suits your interests and skills. The truth is, there is no one way to be a philanthropist: write a check, go to a gala, volunteer at a school, shop and give back, or join a collective giving circle. We are all philanthropists in our own way.

So, try on that philanthropist hat. Add the title to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages and when you introduce yourself to someone new. Nice to meet you -- I’m Leslie Hartog, business woman, mother, and philanthropist. (I left out my age. No one needs to know that.)

Leslie Hartog is the Co-founder and CEO of The Community Seal and Co-chair of 100 Women Strong (a giving circle initiative of Central Florida Foundation)

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