Arkow: How philanthropy can make your own life better


At its core, philanthropy is personal. While some charitable gifts are publicly acknowledged, the motivations and decisions behind philanthropy are not always openly discussed.

As a fundraising professional, I often hear about the different ways individuals, couples and families choose to prioritize philanthropy and their decision-making process.

I’ve found that there is no “right way” to give and that many people have rituals for ensuring that philanthropy is incorporated consistently into their lives.

While my professional role is to encourage support for the life-changing services that my organization provides to individuals and families across the Valley, it also affords me the opportunity to meet some of the most compassionate individuals that care deeply about their community.

For many of the people I’ve met, philanthropy or “why they give” is something profoundly ingrained in their being and deeply rooted in their faith. The concept of generosity has been passed down through families, as donors will often remember a grandparent whose widespread generosity left a lasting impression and even inspired them to continue that legacy. Some have been personally touched or inspired by something — hardship, loss, a health scare — that may have prompted a call to act. What drives people to give doesn’t matter.

The important thing is to keep it going and make it a priority, which can take some planning.

One couple I know sets aside uninterrupted time every year, away from the distractions of home and personal responsibility, to reflect on past giving and to review what worked (or didn’t work) in the last year so they can plan for the year ahead. They discuss priorities, how much they plan to give, and the causes they would like to support.

As a philanthropy professional and mother of a young child, I am always interested to learn how families make intentional efforts to instill charitable values in their children. I’ve met families who ask their children to give a percentage of their allowance or a monetary gift to a charity of their choice.

Other families complete a day of community service — serving food at a homeless shelter or bringing presents to families in need during the holiday season. Some families even create a more formal grant-making process that allows every family member to weigh in on their family contributions.

While setting a good example may undoubtedly influence your children, one thing is clear — the simple act of talking directly with your children about charitable giving can have a considerable impact.

A study conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University found that talking to children about charity has a more significant impact on inspiring children’s giving than simply demonstrating charitable behavior. If you want to foster the lifelong practice of giving in your children, talk directly and regularly about giving and, if possible, include them in charitable activities.

There are so many ways people can make philanthropy a priority in their lives.

Spending time thinking about what’s important to you and your family can go a long way in strengthening familial relationships, instilling essential values in children, and ultimately, ensuring that your dollars go even further for the causes you care about supporting.

Editor’s note: Andrea Arkow is director of philanthropy and donor engagement for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Visit jfcsaz.org.