Shelly Banjo with the Wall Street Journal wrote an article for today’s edition with that title, to bring attention to the financial mistakes people make when giving to charities—and how to avoid them. It is a good piece and we are proud that they use data from our recent study on year-end giving to help bring attention to the article. Both the article and the study are worth reading, but this is about my being stupid – or at least feeling stupid thanks to my 10-year old son.
Last night, Andrew, my son was reading Hallowed Ground, the publication of The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). He read how CWPT is trying to raise the money to buy property in the middle of The Wilderness Battlefield so that they can protect that hallowed ground. Even at 10-years of age, he knows building a development there would “be messing with America’s heritage” to quote him. He ran (really ran) upstairs to get the $25 his Grammy Sue and Papa Carl gave him during their Thanksgiving visit to donate to the cause. I am proud of him for being so passionate and I went online and matched his gift and used my Facebook page to help get others to match. (By the way CWPT does an amazing job of integrating traditional direct mail, online and other channels to tell their story, but that is a post for another time, this is about me being “stupid.”)
Now to get to the stupid part. A little later on, after pulling another $20 out of his piggy bank, Andrew asked me the question I was not ready for:
“Which is more important, saving battlefields or helping people, like the homeless?”
I was all ready for the questions about Santa Claus, girls and where babies come from, but I wasn’t ready for this.
We have been supportive of organizations like the Capital Area Food Bank and Mobile Loaves and Fishes which does an amazing job of supporting the homeless. We often carry socks filled with water and energy bars to give to the homeless on Austin’s streets. Andrew has also watched as we have supported Newman University, my alma mater to provide scholarship and other assistance to students. After visiting Gettysburg on our vacation this summer and learning more about the Civil War we are also proud to support CWPT and the work they do. We also give to our parish. All of which are important to us and the people those organizations serve.
But, which is more important? Here is the rest of the conversation:
Me: “They all are important for different reasons.”
Andrew: “I know, but which one is most important? I mean people have lives and while battlefields and schools are important, we kind of have to have people?”
Me: “Yeah, did you just see that catch by the Eagles receiver?” (#fail on my efforts to change the subject and probably as a parent with that answer.)
Andrew: “Really Dad, maybe the $20 from my piggy bank should go to help people. What do you think?”
Me: “I’m proud of you for wanting to help, let’s talk…”
We had a great conversation about how we give, what we give and how that helps people. I am sure I did not do justice to the “what is more important?” I showed him an article from my alumni magazine about the great work doctors who graduated from Newman are doing, a story about a graduate who is on the frontlines of rehabilitating terrorists, and the graduate who is a priest serving the poor. We looked at what our Church does to help families, the homeless and communities. We looked at the Mobile Loaves & Fishes website to read about how they are changing lives. We finished on the CWPT website and he talked about how important it is to never forget. We talked a bit about how our modest support helps all those organizations in their mission – a term he knew that I can be sure was not really in my vocabulary at 10 – and other ways to help beyond just money.
I think he understood. We now have fewer canned goods in our pantry as he prepared a sack for the Food Bank; on Saturday he will be my elf as I serve as Santa for homeless children at a local church; tonight he plans to get some of his clothes that he has outgrown to give to the shelter; he plans to give some of his old books to the library at the children’s hospital; and I promised to restock our socks, water and food for the homeless.
This was a great lesson for the 46-year old in the room. While all the organizations are important and one can debate the “which is more important” question for eternity, what is most important is that we as parents teach our kids how important it is for them to do what they can – big and little – to make a difference. To take from our blessings to share with others.
In this season and year-round, I am so glad that there are people that are willing to make a difference and nonprofit organizations there to make the world a better place. As I write this I also know I am truly blessed with my kids: Ashley who is philanthropy chair at her Texas State University sorority and a SIFE member who has raised or helped raise thousands for Ronald McDonald House and others. Rachel my high school senior who was quoted in the Austin American Statesman this weekend around her efforts to support a single mom and her child and is helping with a nonprofit called “Saving Sofie.” And Andrew, who is not only giving, but willing to teach his dad a lesson on giving. Mom sure has done a great job – the question is “have I?”