Exit133 Archives

In the early 2000s I had a monthly philanthropy column on Exit133, a well read and loved community blog in Tacoma, Washington. I wrote about financial and volunteer giving, connecting with your passion and place, and ways that individuals can build community where they are. It’s no longer active, but I’ve archived a few of the pieces I wrote during that time. ~kcb

That Time is Now February 2009

I was inspired this week thinking about the new direction of our nation and the impact it will have on the continuing evolution of philanthropy. There has been a momentous shift in philosophy; by embracing integrity and hope for our future, we are setting a long term vision and becoming individually active in realizing our potential. As Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt movement in Kenya, has stated, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”

People are ready for this movement. It is palpable in the language being used by local newspapers, national broadcasts and in day to day interactions. It is encouraging to see our leadership so visibly and vibrantly embrace community action and service as the foundation to greatness; a greatness we can only realize for ourselves when we work to bring it about for the rest of the world. This kind of leadership encourages others to find the solutions that are right for them. I have been overjoyed watching a nation moved so deeply by the stirring of a power they already have within them. Do you feel it? It is the subtle shift to knowing for yourself what you need to do.

This type of leadership is similar to philanthropy … providing the tools and access to the tools is the way to lead people toward realizing their potential. At the heart of any good philanthropist is a good leader. They know how to follow those they are trying to direct. They know how to be with people, to learn from and work with them to accomplish goals. In doing so the goals are achieved by the people, for the people; they are goals that will be sustainable over time, goals that breed increased desire for building community assets. This type of transformation in leadership results in individual choice and participation. It changes our expectations of what we can get or what we are given. Leading from behind asks for input from every individual and demands that we all take an active role in creating together. In the short term it is much easier to set a course and tell people what to do. Leadership of hope is messy, but it provides long term success. The leadership we are experiencing today, like philanthropy, enables the purest form of civic engagement. We are witnessing history. The time to shed our fear and give hope to each other is now.

Long Term Investing January 2009

A lot of people have been questioning the importance, in tough economic times like this, of their philanthropy to art, education and environmental programs. Many have spoken to me about shifting their focus this year and donating their annual gift to an agency that serves basic needs. I cannot argue the importance of donating to those who do not have food, clothing or shelter, especially when we are experiencing record unemployment rates. However, my advice is to stay the course with your giving. If you regularly give to senior painting classes, or literacy tutoring programs or agencies that work to restore wetlands, you should continue to do so.

Do not misunderstand my compassion when I say this. What I promote in times like this is an overall increase in your giving. Stay the course with your regular philanthropy but give in addition to the agencies who are meeting the basic needs of your less fortunate neighbors. Keep in mind that I come from the perspective of the Community Foundation, which believes that a healthy, vibrant community is made up of an intricate fabric of needs and services.  Philanthropy should be aspirational as well as practical, meeting a spectrum of needs for a spectrum of people.

In addition, many new donors emerge during times of great need to provide support to the social services. Some believe that the agencies that truly suffer when times are tough run the programs that are seen as ‘expendable’. A program that works to clean up Puget Sound might lose donations while not gaining any new donors when times are tight, but social service agencies have a better chance of continued support from their regular supporters while gaining the support of others that do not usually give to them. This is not to say that social service agencies are doing well right now. They will continue to need additional support as the need for their services increases disproportionately to their staff and financial resources. This is a plea to operate from a place of abundance – your giving does not have to be either/or, you can give to both.

While you’re at it, consider matching your charitable donation with volunteer time as well. When bottom lines decrease from lost grants and individual contributions many agencies find that they are unable to do the amount of work being asked of them.

To recap:

  • If you find yourself in the position to give, give a little bit more.
  • If you have never given before, now is the time to start!
  • When you give financially, inquire how you might also volunteer your time.

I think about philanthropy like long term investing in the community. Do not panic and completely rebalance your portfolio. Stay the course, be bold, act with abundance.

Bah Humbug? Or, Intentional Giving December, 2008

I’ve never been a big fan of gift giving. It’s a lot of pressure. I’m uncomfortable accepting gifts and I don’t like the obligation I feel to give them. I much prefer to give things to people as I come across them throughout the year, not on prescribed holidays. And I prefer to give what I want to give because I want to give it, not because I’m told to give it.

Often there is an expectation to just give something, but I can’t resolve to give something that doesn’t have meaning. And I don’t like to give things that someone could have just bought themselves. That’s not a gift, that’s a favor. For me, without some meaning behind a gift, the giving is a shallow exercise in responsibility. The best gifts are able to capture something unique about the relationship between giver and receiver; they create a union between creativity and intention, somehow holding the promise of a new start while expressing an appreciation for the blessings of the past.  One year my brother-in-law started making sugar skulls. He and my sister had moved to Arizona in the Spring and he was practicing for Day of the Dead. So for my summer birthday that year I got a large box in the mail packed ever so carefully to hold this 1-inch creation. I stood in my kitchen, shaking my head and smiling, admiring the craft of it and the dedication to ensuring its safe arrival. It was a turning point in my relationship with him; he wasn’t just the man my sister was married to, he was my brother. He had given me a gift.

This year I’m finding it to be particularly important to remain conscious about gift giving. Many of us have lost jobs, have lost homes, have lost retirement investments. Even if you count yourself as one of those whose basic needs are met, this is still going to be a tough holiday season. But it presents a great opportunity to redefine extravagance and find meaning in your gift giving by discovering what you really want. Things like, I want little girls in Pakistan to have the opportunity for education, or, I want my family to slow down and enjoy the snow, or, I want anyone who is on the street in this cold to have shelter and food. Making a list of what you want, as opposed to what you think you need, starts a new conversation this time of year. You have the power to ask for and give the gifts that will impact the lives of the people around you, in ways that will be felt long after the wrapping paper and ribbons are scooped off the living room floor. Find creative ways to give gifts of hope and respect, admiration and peace. And as you continue with your holiday shopping, factor in the things you can do for the individuals outside of your immediate circle of friends and family, gifts that honor Tacoma and the people who live here.

What Turns You On? November 2008

I was talking with a friend the other day about participation in community events and volunteer activities. She was frustrated with what appears to be apathy among her peers, and we got into an animated discussion about who gives of themselves in a community and why. She was concerned with the barriers that keep people from engaging, from time constraints to not knowing how to get involved. And although these are the tangible barriers for many of us, I believe there is a deeper issue at play. There is a moment when people choose to prioritize someone or something beyond their own inner circle. There is a moment when people choose to move from thoughtfulness to action.

For me, volunteering came early in life as I watched my parents active in our community, and in my 20s I continued this exploration with one-off experiences: packing rice at a foodbank, painting murals in a low-income nursery, pulling invasive plants from a hiking trail. This was great exposure to the needs of the community, but after some time I realized that to make this a sustaining practice in my life, I needed to focus my intention. What transformation did I want to see in my community, and how could I begin to move that needle?

The ensuing reflection led me to a mentoring program where I was paired with a 4th grade girl who was reserved in class and eager for one-on-one attention from teachers who didn’t have the time to provide it. We would get together once a week for an hour, and as we sat in the hallway playing games or reading books, I would learn about her life and her dreams for the future. At the end of 5th grade she told me she would like to be a pediatrician because she wanted to help little kids be healthy. I just came across a picture from that time. We are sticking our tongues out, cross-eyed, trying not to lose the pose through our laughter. She is leaning into me, and I remember that she was shy at first, not smiling for the camera at all. I spent five years coming to her school every week and I was the only person that showed up for her at her 8th grade graduation. This relationship was, and continues to be, powerful for me. I believe it was for her too. When I reconnected with her recently she was getting ready for her high school prom and told me that her plan was to finish up the credits she needed to get into a nursing program.

Through our time together I became reacquainted with the little girl I used to be and she was able to express the possibilities of her life. In my decision to focus my intention, and because of my belief that a healthy community starts with one young woman, I began the process of transformation, one relationship at a time. The tangible barriers to participation disappeared as I connected with my deep desire for a better world.

We get turned on by something; we become interested in an issue or feel we have something to add to the conversation. And in this moment, we have a choice to step outside of our comfort zone and become a citizen, engaged with our community and actively contributing to the well being of that community. The importance of our individual engagement cannot be overestimated. What took you out of yourself and started the conversation for you? And if it hasn’t yet happened, what would?

Putting Yourself in the Picture October 2008

I’ve spent the last week or so pondering the deeper questions posted to my last article about how we, as individuals and as a community, move above self-satisfaction, self-success, and self-aggrandizement. Specifically, Ian asked how we develop humility and love. Without getting completely zen on everyone, I would like to take a stab at those questions and I hope others will join in with their thoughts.

At the Community Foundation’s annual lunch last week, our speaker, Lesra Martin, said that we need to put ourselves in the picture. I liked that image; it encourages personal responsibility and certainly action. It speaks to me of a narrative, a stream of storytelling that includes everyone as an author. This stream bubbles up through each of us, telling us our history, our present, and hopefully, creating the story of our future. The story of the world depends on each of us stepping into the shot.

However, putting ourselves in the picture without a balanced perspective supports the self-focused view, seeing our place in the picture from our individual standpoint. Putting ourselves in the picture does nothing to develop humility and love, the essential components to authentic and compassionate action. The yin to this yang is to put the picture into ourselves. We are mirrors of the wider community, holding a snapshot of everything around us within us. Recognizing the picture that surrounds us as ourselves creates the necessary tension to move towards wholeness. It encourages us to move away from judging the world outside of ourselves as separate. When we are able to pivot between these two states, in the picture and of the picture, we begin to shed our fear.

Ultimately, I believe humility and love come to us as we transition from fear to hope. It is happening on a global level at the same time it is happening for individuals. And as simplistic as it sounds, the transformation from fear, which motivates action for the self, to hope, which motivates action for another, is a complex and ongoing process. At its core it demands an understanding that dependence is not restrictive; in fact, it is the ultimate freedom. In dependence we act in relation to others, rather than acting selfishly and narrow-mindedly, and it is through this relationship to others that we are free to be uniquely ourselves. This can be seen so keenly in nature: grass marsh makes its unique sound only because of the wind playing through it – it is unique only so long as it is dependent on the wind. Anyone that has played on a sports team or with an orchestra knows this lesson intimately. Your success as an individual is meaningless unless it is grounded in dependence on all of those around you.

So put yourself in the picture. Developing relationships with the story around you allows the story to live in you. And when the story opens itself to you, humility and love emerge. Now the picture is in you.