Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A "Roamin' Holiday"

Twins Ann and Elle and I travelled to the Bonnaroo festival, and while they camped, I spent time in and around Winchester, TN. This community of about 7,000 residents boasts two famous native offspring: Sir John Templeton (1912-2008), financier and philanthropist, and Dinah Shore (1916-1994), entertainer and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Other than their namesake streets, it is difficult to see any lasting imprint of these wealthy individuals on their hometown.* Winchester, like many rural communities, appears little-touched by outside philanthropy.

Dinah Shore’s philanthropy is not well-publicized, but other people, often those affiliated with the LPGA, have honored her. These initiatives include naming charity golf events after her and awarding scholarships with her name.

According to Wikipedia, Templeton funded a library in nearby Sewanee, TN and left an estimated $1 billion in several philanthropic programs. One of those institutions, the John Templeton Foundation, supports research into a number of “Big Ideas.” Grants made a few years ago, for example, support research about the origins, manifestations, and consequences of philanthropy, as part of an exploration of character development.

Results from those studies are still under review. But even before that work is done, there are insights into the origins of charitable giving. In an award-winning study, Eleanor Brown (no relation) of Pomona College and James Ferris of the University of Southern California showed the importance of social networks as a determinant (cause) of volunteering and giving. Basically, the more groups—formal or informal—a person belongs to, the more likely he or she is to give or volunteer. There isn’t a 100% correlation, but using data about thousands of people, this is the trend. So why do people give or volunteer when they know more people?

Because it feels good. Scholars say there really is no giving without SOME kind of return. At a minimum, donors get a “warm glow”. Which might be a “warm glow” for helping a friend meet a fundraising goal for a walkathon, even if the cause itself is not so important to you. It might also be the pretty cool “rush” you can get knowing that your money has been able to transform someone else’s life in a substantial way.

One of my brothers, for example, supports a program called Summer Search, which has some pretty impressive stats about its impact for the high school students the group selects and mentors. So, I while I didn’t leave any money behind for charity in Winchester, I’m learning about Summer Search and proposing it for our family's line-up of regular monthly donations. That gets me a double “warm glow” : helping my brother with one of his strong interests and funding, in a small way, transformative experiences for kids the age of my kids. Stay tuned….

* Despite some people’s preferences to have buildings named after them, most philanthropy leaves little physical trace. Templeton or Shore could have left a trust, scholarship fund, or other philanthropic contribution in a way that was not visible as I walked and drove through the community.

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