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January 28, 2019

One Humbug.  Hold the ‘Bah’

Fostering Community

Childhood memories are funny things.  They sneak up on us at the darndest times.  Last week I was sitting in a conference room in Victoria, B.C. listening to a presentation on philanthropy when I suddenly thought of humbugs, those traditional hard-boiled British candies that magically appeared in my grandmother’s hand whenever I started to wriggle about in the pew during Sunday church service.

I have vivid memories of church with Grandma Hales: The comfort of the familiar hymns, the fantastical illustrations in the Bible, those tasty humbugs meant to keep me quiet during the service, and the softness of her shoulder when a lengthy sermon caused my tiny head to fall gently to one side.  But the thing I remember most was the delight I took when she handed me a quarter to put in the collection plate alongside her dutifully-placed envelope.  (Grandma Hales believed that money should always be given with modesty.)  This small act of giving filled me with a sense of pride and connectedness – a feeling that I was part of something bigger than myself, joined to a community that believed in helping others.

My grandmother was not a wealthy woman. She lived off a very modest pension and was careful in her spending.  I am sure her tithes to the church were likewise modest but she gave without fail.  Grandma Hales gave in other ways, too.  Quiet ways that enriched her church and her neighbourhood.  Tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off made for a funeral visitation, roses cut from her garden left on a neighbour’s front porch, homemade strawberry-custard pies donated to the church bake sale. For these and for other moments of inspiration and appreciation I am forever grateful. She taught me the value of giving.

These days, giving can be big business. Just look at the financial statements of any big university or major research hospital.  The conference I attended focused on philanthropy in independent schools, and based on the conversations I heard in the workshops, a lot of very smart and very dedicated people are working hard to make these schools bigger, better and accessible to more deserving students.  There’s a lot of money involved and it rarely comes without some level of coordinated solicitation.

Every school has its own culture of giving.  Some are long-established and strongly embedded.  Others are nascent but vibrant or, in some cases, long standing but on life-support.  The history of philanthropy in women’s institutions, in particular, is an interesting one.  Historically, schools such as Ontario Ladies’ College invested little energy in cultivating donations, tacitly knowing that alumnae were more likely to direct family gifts to their husband’s alma mater rather than to their own school.  The genteel belief that “polite ladies don’t talk about money” served to shape the giving habits of previous generations.

Today’s younger generation is changing the way organizations think about philanthropy.  Millennials are more likely to give than any previous group.  In fact, 84% of Millennials give to a charitable cause compared to 72% of Baby Boomers and 59% of Gen Xers. [1]  They may not have as much money to give but their commitment to making a difference exceeds that of their parents’ generation.  But more than just money, Millennials give of their time and want to know that their efforts are creating meaningful change. What I find most heartening about this generational shift is how Millennials are passing these beliefs on to their own children.

We see the impact this commitment to active philanthropy is having as more and more children and teens are championing causes.  Look at 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg who champions the School Strike 4 Climate Change movement, and just last week took her message to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Or Emma González and David Hogg, survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting who’s anti-gun violence message sparked a nation-wide movement in the U.S. And at Trafalgar Castle, our own 12-year-old McKenna tackled the challenge of homelessness by raising money to make and distribute 500 ‘Penny Packs’ that provide homeless youth with much-needed hygiene and comfort products.

I am heartened by the future of philanthropy in our country.  Knowing that our youngest Canadians are learning the value of helping others gives me hope for the future.  And I love seeing how the lessons I learned seated in the pew beside my grandmother are being passed down to a new generation of children.  I know Grandma Hales would be proud, and were she here today, I’m sure she would quietly give them all a humbug and a loving smile!

[1] https://www.thestreet.com/story/14445741/1/why-millennials-are-more-charitable.html


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