The Inspiration Behind Philanthropy

Now that the spring gala season at AIF has drawn to a dramatic close with the New York edition last week on June 21, I am left with an embarrassment of good memories of our largely volunteer led and managed events.  Perhaps my favorite is how Andy Gupta, the Chair of our New England gala, boldly set the goal of significantly increasing the percentage of Gala attendees who personally donated before or during his event.  His theme was to give based on inspiration, rather than any other motivation.  Videos and speeches were all meant to reinforce this theme.  Everyone rallied to make it s a success.  As a result, the percentage of people who personally gave increased from 50% to 75%.  (If someone comes as part of a delegation from a company sponsoring the gala, and does not give personally, they are counted as not giving even though their seat is paid for.)

Andy and Deepa Gupta speak at the 2017 Boston Gala
Andy and Deepa Gupta speak at the 2017 Boston Gala

Andy’s success got me thinking about why people give to organizations like AIF, and I made my reflections the core of my remarks during all the spring galas so far.  In a course on philanthropy that I just finished teaching at the University of Maryland this spring (which you can learn about by visiting the class blog), I summarized more than 20 different things that can motivate someone to be philanthropic.  Among them are feelings of empathy, guilt and obligation.  To give based in being inspired by the opportunity to solve a societal problem, like extreme poverty in India, is another one.  This was the motivation that Andy was trying to tap into, and which people responded to so well.

Alex Counts speaks to crowd at 2017 Boston Gala
Alex Counts speaks to crowd at 2017 Boston Gala

In my remarks at the Orange County, Atlanta and San Francisco galas, I noted that one of the first words I taught myself in Bengali in the late 1980s was “to inspire,” which according to the dictionary was “anupranito kora.”  I wanted to learn that word because from my earliest days in Bengal, I saw how a small amount of money, an idea, or an idealistic and hard working person could change the lives of people and entire villages in ways that inspired me.  I was searching for a language to express what I was seeing during my Fulbright Fellowship with Grameen Bank I learned that this word for “inspire” was archaic.  Virtually no one used it in modern spoken Bengali.  So I learned to express “to inspire” colloquially as “shahosh daowa,” which literally translates as “to give courage” or perhaps “to encourage.”

This reminded me that when you are inspired and you give as a result, you are often providing encouragement to people who have dedicated their lives to the mission and the cause.  People like our AIF’s dedicated staff and those of our grassroots implementation partners across India.  Giving in this spirit seems one of the highest forms of philanthropy, and I see it growing every day as I meet more and more of AIF’s dedicated financial supporters.

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