Before my initial experiences in development, to me, the word ‘philanthropy’ was almost synonymous with the word ‘money.’ When I heard ‘philanthropy’, I thought of large donations that made the names “Carnegie” and Rockefeller” the household words that they are today. Philanthropy was not only just about money, but it was also about a lot of money. I thought that people who gave $10 to their local symphony orchestra couldn’t be called a philanthropist; they had to have given enough to have the entire hall named after them. Or at least a row of seats.
Over the past year I learned that philanthropy is not defined by the size of the gift made. Just a few weeks ago, Wesley Ellison drove this point home with the astute observations she made in her post, “Small Donations Go a Long Way.” Amount is not what should be taken into account when assessing the value of a gift; rather, the passion behind the contribution is what makes it so valuable.
Today, this point was illustrated for me in an indirect fashion. However, the importance of passion was not stressed by seeing the effects of a small (or large, for that matter) gift coming from a fervent source. Instead, I saw belief in a situation that didn’t involve money at all.
Today, on my first day of work in development at summer’s epicenter of classical music, I spent some time working with three elderly volunteers. We were stuffing letters soliciting support for the institution’s annual fund in a last push for support before the organization’s summer performances began. I have no idea whether or not these volunteers were donors, but, regardless of that fact, they had invested just as much in the festival as anyone writing a check.
We were mailing probably somewhere around 1,000 letters. These volunteers knew more than half of the recipients by name.
Discussion about the organization in general naturally ensued, ranging from comments about the institution’s leadership to its repertoire for the Summer 2010 season. The volunteers participated in intelligent commentary worthy of anyone with any sort of involvement in the festival.
And when I asked how long they had been involved in this kind of work? I was floored upon learning that they had been participating in the organization for over fifty years.
The investment of volunteers in any institution cannot be discounted. Volunteers are perhaps the driving force behind any activity; they are the face of what true investment means in any organization. Volunteers give their time, energy, and ideas for usually no return at all. They aren’t hired to do the work that they do, meaning they aren’t chained to the promise of a paycheck after a certain period of time.
On the outside, it might appear that they receive little in exchange for their efforts. Materialistically, that might be true. However, my experiences today taught me that the satisfaction and pleasure found in supporting a cause near and dear to their hearts is worth all the money in the world.