In my mid-fifties, I had just moved to a city and was learning to adjust to a new way of living. It was one of those moments in life that you least expect; the turning points that end up redefining who and what you are when the rug has been pulled out from under you. Yearning for some sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment, I began getting involved in the local community by supporting different activities: the Ronald McDonald House, political candidates, church involvement and city endeavors amongst others. At the time, these undertakings felt little more than ways of giving back to individuals, organizations and family, ways of making my transition smoother.
Amidst this flurry of activity, I was once in the middle of a casual conversation with a friend when he proceeded to describe my life to me in a way that jarred my senses. He said, “Patrice, you are a philanthropist.” Whoa, wait a minute, I thought. Much to my disbelief, I felt truly insulted. Upon immediate inspection, the culprits behind my surprisingly harsh reaction seemed to be that 1) I dislike being labeled, and 2) I had just never considered myself in such a manner. It still didn't quite add up however, and so I resolved to dig a little deeper. The first thing that came to mind was to prop open the dictionary and look up the word philanthropy.
Philanthropy, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
1: Goodwill to fellow members of the human race especially: active effort to promote human welfare
2a: an act or gift done for humanitarian purposes b: an organization distributing or supported by funds for humanitarian purposes.
Upon reading the definition, I realized that I had certainly participated in such activities throughout my life. But then what had tainted this word for me? I turned to an even deeper compendium of knowledge, the internet, and eventually struck the why. One of the definitions provided by business leaders at Investopedia is that philanthropy involves charitable giving to worthy causes on a large scale. And that has always been my experience in the past. I had often worked, volunteered and served as a board member for many well-known organizations and what I realized was that my idea of philanthropic giving was associated primarily with wealth and power instead of with humanitarianism. While being ever grateful for the large-scale contributions of corporations, my idea of giving back had become skewed. I had put a negative lens on a much worthy idea.
I decided that I needed to change my perspective and rework my negative attitude into a positive.
When I looked up the word philanthropist, I found that a philanthropist is someone who engages in philanthropy: donating their time, money, and/or reputation to charitable causes and who cares for others' needs in addition to their own. It was this definition that helped make it clear to me my friend's choice of words. It described in many ways the work that I had done all of my life, often without giving it much thought. Previously, I would have considered myself more of a humanitarian. But in reality, it dawned on me that humanitarians and philanthropists are essentially one and the same. I love working with organizations to help promote goodwill on any and all levels. I make it a point to give to organizations that I believe to be making a difference in the world. I give my time and energy to individuals to help promote their causes. All this I have done consistently throughout my life with pleasure and with love.
Philanthropy has also touched my life in a very personal manner. Three years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3-4 breast cancer. Thirty-five years ago, this would have been a death sentence, but a brave woman named Nancy Brinker started a philanthropic organization targeted at combating the disease. Her own daughter, Susan G. Komen, died at age thirty-six from breast cancer. If it weren't for women like Nancy, I would not be here today. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that as one of the participants of the pledged 15-mile walk to support breast cancer research, I would be the direct beneficiary of that very research all these years later.
My mother, Rosella was dying of heart disease in 2002. Who else came to our aid but hospice. You don’t ever think that by giving in your life that it will come back to you. And perhaps that selfless giving is one of the things that makes philanthropy beautiful. But it does come back to you. Every single year that passes by, I do not miss giving to that wonderful organization in one form or another.
A very good friend of mine, Walter Brown, who passed away a couple of years ago had a habit of always “netting” things out. He would take a very complicated situation and then be able to express his thoughts in just a few profound words. In his book The Life and Times of Walter Frank Brown, from his own personal journal, he states:
"As you may already know, life is neutral; thus how you think about events makes them either positive or not. So join the rest of us in trying to make them mostly positive. And good luck in everything you do.”
Give of yourself to others in all possible ways. Do yourself a favor; make a plan, decide who you want to be, and then go for it. All our lives, we ask ourselves, “what does it really matter,” and then one day you wake up and realize why. Philanthropy and humanitarianism are simply just ways of living with optimism. Trust in the Universe and trust that what you give will come back one day because, in my experience, it always does.
- To find out more about the work of hospice organizations check out the Hospice Foundation of America or the NHPCO websites. Consider making a donation; hospice organizations are some of the hardest hit coronavirus complications.
- To find out more about the life of Nancy Brinker and the work of her organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure, check out their website here.
- For more of Walter Frank Brown's wisdom, you can check out some of his writing here or consider contributing in Walter's honor to the Dragon Fund; a foundation designed to support the work of the Creative Learning Academy.
About the Author
Patrice Newman Cavanaugh is a former banker, serving in the capacities of Vice President and Senior Vice President for two different banks respectively. She is also a former first lady of a University in the state of Florida.
Now she devotes her time to loving her family and touching the lives of people in her community.
For more of Patrice's work, check out her writer's page.