Charitable giving has always been important in my family.The time and energy that my
parents, now in their mid-80’s and starting their 61st year of marriage, spent on service to others has, I believe, has contributed not only to their rich lives, but also to their good health.
I cannot remember a time when I was not encouraged to give away a portion of my resources — time and money — beginning in kindergarten when I first received an allowance. Early on my parents, a minister and a teacher, were not well off by any means, but they always instructed my brother and me to contribute time and money generously to others. They led by example as did many people in their generation.
Recently I came upon an interesting document that demonstrated just how seriously they took their philanthropy and how well they modeled for me.
In a trove of pictures and letters recently brought from my parents’ house I found a copy of my first grade narrative report card from December 1958. On one side of an onion-skin paper were my teacher’s observations. Far more interesting, however, was a different commentary on the other side, a chart in both parents’ handwriting, listing various amounts of money.
The chart itemized my family’s charitable giving for the 1958 calendar year — amounts that were small because they were young parents and it was the 1950’s. Interestingly, the wide range of contributions reflected their priorities and largely reflect priorities to this day. Their contributions ranged from fifty cents to thirty dollars.
That year my mother and father sent contributions to their churches, colleges and graduate schools, as well as to various other churches and church organizations, the community chest, several traditionally black colleges, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the YM and YWCA organizations, Save the Children, and two civil rights groups (recognized now but not that well-known than). Other contributions went to not-for profits working for migrants and the mentally ill, a school that was being constructed in Mississippi, and to what must have been an embryonic organization thinking about cleaning up the sewage in Lake Erie, near where we lived. And there were others.
Sometimes it was clear that my parents had a conversation about how much to donate. Several times an amount is erased or crossed out and a smaller amount substituted, but underneath that place another name is squeezed in and assigned the exact amount that had been subtracted just above.
What struck me immediately was how generous my parents were, and how they not only talked about helping people who were less fortunate, but they contributed their money. They knew that some organizations might not affect our lives directly, but instead would improve the lives of others (thus affecting our lives indirectly).
Their views are the same to this day.