Governing Philanthropists

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “philanthropy” as “the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of mankind, as by charitable aid or donations.”  We tend to think of philanthropists as people who donate money to good causes – typically nonprofits – but also occasionally to public organizations, such as the Gates Foundation grant to the Hillsborough County Public Schools for its Empowering Effective Teachers Initiative.  Large-scale philanthropy is a wonderful American tradition. Talking about his father John D. Rockefeller Junior’s favorite New Testament story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, in his remarkable “Memoirs” (Random House, 2002), David Rockefeller (the last surviving grandchild of the founder of Standard Oil and one of history’s greatest philanthropists, John D. Rockefeller) beautifully describes the philanthropic impulse:

Who is your neighbor?  What are your obligations to him?  That is the point of the story.  To Father the moral was clear:  Everyone is your neighbor.  He would emphasize that point over and over again at our prayer sessions before breakfast each morning when we were children.  The story of the Good Samaritan . . . epitomized Father’s life and inspired his philanthropy.  For him philanthropy was about being a good neighbor.

What we can easily forget is that philanthropy is about more than giving money.  Being a philanthropist is also about contributing your time to good causes, and a time-honored way of doing so is serving on nonprofit boards.  Over the past quarter-century I’ve worked with hundreds of wonderful philanthropists who do tremendous good through their governing.  One of the most inspiring philanthropists of this ilk I’ve ever worked with is Steve Goldman, M.D., a cardiologist who has donated hundreds of hours to the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco County here in Florida, whose Board he has chaired for several years.  Here’s what Steve says about volunteering in a deeply moving video that I shot a couple of years ago:  “It is not simply us.  It is our community.  It is all of us.  We are one member of this humanity – our humanity.”  If you’d like to see Steve’s video, click here.

Doug Eadie