I miss Oprah. Actually, I miss watching the shows where she gave away ridiculous amounts of money … or a trip to Australia … or a new car … or in some way totally transformed a person’s life by giving them a gift. While most people were watching the audience’s reactions to their newly-found fortunes, I loved watching Oprah. She seemed to get as much joy from giving as her audience did from receiving. Oprah obviously enjoys being a philanthropist.
It probably goes without saying that most of us would love to be in Oprah’s income bracket. I certainly would. But what I’d really love to have is the capacity to give away money like she does. So, I decided that when I win the lottery, I’m going to give a lot of the money away. I want to experience the same radiance of delight Oprah has when she’s in philanthropist mode.
The only problem with that scenario is: they say I have a greater chance of being hit by lightning than of winning the lottery. Too bad. I’ll never know the joy of being a philanthropist.
Or will I? Can everyday people … those of us who don’t make the Forbes lists … be philanthropists?
Of course we can. What is philanthropy anyway? According to the dictionary, the definition of philanthropy is, “… a benevolence for all of humanity; the desire to improve the material, social and spiritual welfare of humanity.” It doesn’t say anything about having to be rich (or famous) to do so.
I recently ran across an ad for Earth Day (April 22). It made me realize that philanthropy has many forms. It isn’t just about giving away lots of money. Philanthropy can mean having a high regard for Mother Earth and doing everyday things that will reduce our impact on the planet.
Things like buying produce from local farmers; donating gently-used clothing to those who are in need; conserving water, and converting your great-grandmother’s treadle sewing machine into a beautiful plant stand à la Nate Berkus. Reduce, reuse, recycle. What could be more philanthropic than that?
In his book Chef MD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine: A Food Lover’s Road Map to Losing Weight, Preventing Disease and Getting Really Healthy, Dr. Joe La Puma suggests another form of philanthropy I can practice. He says that by serving your family one vegan or vegetarian meal a week – with produce from local farmers – you not only reduce your carbon footprint, you honor and celebrate the farmers who grew the vegetables.
Being part of a community garden is another benevolent act of philanthropy that anyone can be a part of. Even if you don’t know how to grow vegetables, there’s bound to be someone working in a plot nearby who can help you (yet another act of philanthropy!). If you want to find a community garden near you, contact your City Hall, Parks and Recreation Department, local botanical garden, nurseries and garden centers, or regional food banks. CommunityGarden.org has a searchable database of community gardens. Using my zip code, I found 11 community gardens in my area.
Simply planting a garden in your own back yard is an act of benevolence. Vegetables you’ve grown yourself taste better (okay, I don’t have any science to back that up, but I swear it’s true). Homegrown vegetables are fresher, more nutritious, pesticide free, and fun to grow. It’s great exercise, too. You can burn anywhere from 200 to 500 calories per hour working in the garden. If you don’t have space in your yard, you can grow lots of vegetables in containers on your patio or balcony.
Earth Day aside, there are times I still daydream about being Oprah. My birthday is next week, and I decided to give myself the gift of acting like Oprah. I looked through the donation pages at WePay and made a donation to someone I’ve never met. It felt good. It felt really good. I’ve told my friends I don’t want presents this year. I’d rather they go to WePay, find someone who needs an act of philanthropy, and make a donation in honor of my birthday. They love the idea.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “One person can make a difference and every person should try.” I think that sounds like the perfect prescription for becoming a philanthropist, regardless of income level. You don’t have to be Oprah to save the planet or to make a difference in someone’s life. You can be an everyday philanthropist … and change the world.