Monday, March 23, 2009

Philanthropy 101: Giving big is not as easy as it looks; every gift should be met with small investment by receiver; my first foray is disaster

In gratitude for support from a friend during my ongoing divorce, I gave two, new desktop computers to the classes of her twin granddaughters at the end of January.

With virus protection software, paper and line printers, total cost of the gift was $1,172.

God, in saving my life from leukemia so far, has blessed me with wealth and enough smarts to get out of the stock market above 13,000. Much is expected from those who are so blessed.

But this gift of technology to a rural elementary school has been doomed from the beginning. And I've learned by my own mistakes that philanthropy is not for small-time players such as me. There is much more I need to learn.

Mistake No. 1: Forgetting to stick to your game plan.

The friend did not know there were actually three, third grade classrooms at her granddaughters' school. So I came up one short on my gift when I brought the technology there.

But to be a good sport and caught in the good will of the moment, I promised the other classroom of students I'd get them a computer, too. Bad move.

Mistake No. 2: Not stopping when you are ahead.

I am blessed to be a parishioner at St. Edward Catholic Church in Nashville. And when it comes to technology, Father Joe Pat Breen -- the greatest man I have ever known -- has spared no expense. And he had something in the library at the church school that I never knew existed -- a Smart board.

The thing comes with a projector, and you can reproduce images from a laptop computer on the giant screen for kids to follow. And there are pens they can use to write on the board and the image.

Great stuff. So I told two of the classes that I would get them some smart boards. Wrong move.

Mistake No. 3: Delay spells disaster.

Well, all this happened at the end of January. My health swooned in February, crippled by the stress of the divorce and living in a studio apartment while battling leukemia. So by the beginning of March, my friend was after me to produce the Smart boards and other computer.

I showed her e-mails of my difficulty in negotiating a price from Dell based on the size of my order plus my difficulties with divorce lawyers. She was not impressed and got angry. She said her name was tied to the gift. I can understand that.

So I put the purchase of the Smart boards at the top of the list of things to do and directed they be sent to the school. Total cost for that equipment was $4,600. No big deal.

But at the advice of a big-time Nashville philanthropist who is mentoring me, he directed me to always ask for a small investment in return for any gift. He counseled -- from his experience of decades of philanthropy -- that people who receive without having to invest anything on their own are apt to not maintain it as well or fully appreciate it.

Well, the school principal did not like the idea of me asking him -- as an example of that kind of needed investment -- to buy the third computer for the classroom. That would cost $400. He said that would "brake" my promise to the children. Then I asked him to set up a stewardship committee to raise enough money for maintenance costs of the Smart boards. He told I would need to come and speak to the PTO about it.

Mistake No. 4: Don't fight it. Do better the next time.

The Smart boards arrived at the school anyway. And I decided just to let the matter go and not try and convince the principal anymore.

I had told Dell initially to divert the technology until there was a solid agreement on the school's stewardship role. But after praying about it, I called the corporation back and told it to forget about my request and to let the order be delivered.

Dell is a big corporation. And word did not get down to the salesman who had I originally told to divert the order. So to make matters worse, UPS went back to the school and took the equipment back.

The Smart boards and projectors are now in the hands of UPS, helping no child.

Finally, I listened to someone else, and not myself anymore. And that person came up with a great idea.

Buy the third computer for the third classroom and deliver one of the Smart boards to the school. Let the school put it in its library like at St. Edward's for all students to use.

Give the other Smart board to another school that would agree to set up a stewardship fund to support the gift.

The original school is rural and white.

And other school would be black and urban.

And so my first foray into philanthropy has been a disaster. And I hate the hard feelings over it. My friend and I are no longer friends, which is probably better for her anyway.

I did not know that giving on a larger scale could be so difficult, and that I could make so many mistakes. Perhaps I should not have attached a string to the gift, but just as with Habitat for Humanity, it requires sweat equity for homes that families will receive. The same should be with public education. Taxpayers have invested so much in schools without demanding some sort of accountability.

But philanthropy probably is not the best place to start.

Somewhere in the middle of all this mess, I forgot about the children. That's my fault, and it is why I will pull back from this philanthropy business until my mentor can teach me more about avoiding pitfalls -- beginning with myself.

1 comment:

Melissa aka Gabe's Gurl said...

Very interesting story- you've put a spin on "giving" that I had never considered before, but will from now on.