Philanthropy is about the haves and have-nots, but not in the way you might think. Imagine being able to give others incredible experiences that you have had, or help them avoid some of the challenges that you’ve encountered in life. The joy of philanthropy is making new realities for others, and the NCSML helps bring that joy to many.

A common motivation for donors comes from the “have/have-not” experiences of life. I don’t mean the “haves” versus the “have-nots” in an economic sense. People often make contributions to organizations that allow them to promote the welfare of others by empowering them to have experiences the donor has had, or not have some of experiences the donor has had. Examples could include a college education or cancer, respectively.

One’s life experiences include joys and sorrows, achievements and failures, and donors cannot help but be influenced by life in making decisions about what they want to provide others with their beneficence. It is not an easy matter to determine which organization is the appropriate one to support in order to promote the welfare of others as desired. Likewise, it is a challenge for fundraisers to know to whom to speak about their organization’s work in order to inspire contributions that are mutually beneficial to benefactor and beneficiaries. The chemistry of a good philanthropic relationship becomes alchemy when the match is right.

Whether it is benches or bike racks, galleries or programs, almost all aspects of the NCSML benefit from the generosity of others, and many include opportunities for placing your own name, or that of a loved one, as a legacy associated with the gift. Imagine the joy of honoring your parents by naming our heritage garden, or the smiles on the faces of children that get to experience the museum and library for free thanks to your support. NCSML’s upcoming Summer Dedication drive would be a great time to honor someone.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, philanthropy is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, especially through the donation of money to good causes.” “Good” is subjective. Each philanthropically minded person must make decisions about to whom to give and at what amounts. The challenge that causes many donors to say, “Giving away money is hard to do right” are echoing observations that long pre-date income tax and the IRS. Aristotle said, “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

Ben Franklin’s life was marked by many great achievements, and in his autobiography he explains how he garnered support. He said, “… go first to those who know the cause and believe in it, and ask them to give as generously as possible.” It is incumbent for organization representatives to be able to articulate their cause, just as it is critical that donors understand their own motivations that lead them to their preferred causes.

Neither the definition of philanthropy, Aristotle’s observation, nor Franklin’s guidance had anything to do with the IRS or taxes. True philanthropic intentions are not derived in tax codes, though law does provide benefits for generosity aimed at promoting the welfare of others.

What do you have that you wished others could also have (cultural pride, education, experiences, etc.)? What have you had that you wished others “have not” had to experience in their lives (illness, lack of education, fear of authority, absence of freedom, etc.)? Seek nonprofits and organizations whose cause resonates with your goals. Let the magic begin.  Like the magic that happens daily at the NCSML.

A couple of months ago, I enjoyed watching elementary grade students working with NCSML staff members to learn about making art like that created by a little girl their age decades ago. The little girl was named Maňa  who immigrated from Kolin, Czechoslovakia, with her family to Cedar Rapids in 1922. Her true story is part of the NCSML’s exhibits and programs, enabling her experiences to touch children and adults for decades to come.

This video about the current Guts & Glory (link) exhibition provides an inspiring view of how the history of a region, culture, family, or individual can inspire both great works and great philanthropy.

Feel free to contact me to learn more about the myriad opportunities for support in 2018, to discuss planned giving opportunities, or to learn more about how to support the NCSML’s mission. Let us help you find the joy of philanthropy. You can reach me at 832-877-8821 or

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