The science and art of practical philanthropy

Dave Toycen believes that people are created to be generous. 

“We are all wired to be that way,” he said. “I think there is great satisfaction in giving, that the majority of people really are more satisfied in giving than receiving.” 

Toycen is president and chief operating officer of World Vision Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, part of World Vision International that helps impoverished global communities through child-sponsorship programs. He is the author of “The Power of Generosity,” a book that seeks to engage people to be more generous from a Christian point of view, and even from a no-faith perspective. 

“I believe that our best giving comes when it is focused on the person who needs help,” he said. 

Putting a face on a need is appealing. Toycen has seen studies in which people were asked if they would be more likely to donate to help a group of pictured children, two children in another photo, or one pictured child. The responders overwhelmingly chose the one child. 

“There’s something about the way we are as human beings that makes us more compassionate about the individual, which is one of the reasons that our child sponsorship is so powerful,” he said. “You can handle one person. You can get your arms around that person, and it becomes so much more powerful to give. People want to make a difference and they also want to be convinced that they are actually having an impact.” 

When Toycen visits communities supported by more than 400,000 Canadian sponsors, he always finds it “amazing” to see what’s been accomplished. One young man, now a teacher, had been sponsored as a child. He appreciated the help with his schooling and the difference that sponsorships made overall in his community. 

“What meant the most to me,” he told Toycen, “was that when I was small and life was so hard, it encouraged me so much to know that there was somebody, somewhere in the world, who knew my name and cared about me.” 

Bringing a mission to life   

In Audrey Kintzie’s experience, people often give just because they are asked to. The joy of giving comes when they see their dollars or their time put into action. 

“I think we have lost some of that joy because of the way the world is — everything is quick,” she said. “You ask for a thousand dollars and move on, but that takes away from the joy. People want to see the piece of therapeutic equipment that they donated toward being used. They want to see that because of what they donated, a person who couldn’t use his arm can use it again. Seeing that gift in action is a very important part of stewardship.” 

Kintzie is senior development director in university advancements at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, where she teaches courses on non-profit development, and the history and psychology of philanthropy. She also teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

Charities with connections   

She tells students that it’s important to find donors who are passionate about something, and then to let them know what their generosity can accomplish. 

“If you find someone who is passionate about feeding the hungry, show them what you can do with $100 and they’ll say, ‘Wow! I can do that,’” she said. “It’s bringing a mission to life. If they don’t see the impact, they will be less inspired to make additional gifts. We often give them a tax receipt and say thank you and go back to them later without doing anything to inspire them.” 

For her own stewardship, Kintzie chooses charities with personal connections. In addition to supporting her church, archdiocese, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts, she donates to Gilda’s Club (support group for cancer patients) and to research into arthritis, cancer and multiple sclerosis because she has relatives with those diseases. 

Responsible stewardship isn’t limited to human services. People support the arts, recreation and humane organizations for animals because they are passionate about those causes, too, she noted. 

“Those things enrich and expand lives,” Kintzie said. “I have worked in the arts organizations and there are a lot of elements that come out of art, the humanities, literature and culture because if you can learn about these things, you will be better able to appreciate differences.” 

Lessons for giving often come from examples. As a child, she saw her grandparents put offerings into church envelopes, so she put in her quarters, too. 

“We learn these things in our faith traditions,” she said. “We teach our children.” 

Not just a nice thing to do  

Lindstrom
Lindstrom

Benedictine Sister Susan Marie Lindstrom teaches a senior social justice course at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. A few years ago, she attended a summer program sponsored by the Center For Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which focused on creating lesson plans incorporating philanthropy. She later was part of a religious panel discussion on “The Philosophy of Philanthropy.” 

“There are many motivations to be generous and to practice philanthropy,” she said. “Certainly, anyone with an ounce of compassion can be moved by the plight of a brother or sister anywhere on this planet. In the context of religion, however, it is not just a nice thing to do. It is a religious mandate.” 

That “implied responsibility for people,” she added, is found in every major world religion and for Catholics, in the Corporal Works of Mercy and Jesus’s parable of the talents. 

Giving of self   

“Philanthropy can be defined as charity, compassion and benevolence,” Sister Susan said. “Certainly anyone who donates to a cause could be called a philanthropist, but I believe that the label implies a consistent life ethic or willingness to reach out to others. My donation might not be monetary. Perhaps I volunteer at a soup kitchen. Perhaps, because I am an artist, I organize the painting of murals on the sides of abandoned buildings.” 

Those opportunities to give are often overlooked, she said, because “most homilies [on stewardship] ask for money” instead of inviting people to give of themselves. 

“If we never expand the definition of tithing from money to those time, talents and treasures, we miss the opportunity to invite people to help build the kingdom,” she said. 

Sister Susan teaches her students about the many forms of stewardship that call for “taking care of the earth which God has entrusted to us, humankind as well as all other creatures” and in seeing that “our brothers and sisters have their basic needs met and their dignity and rights acknowledged.” 

Learning those things, she said, comes easier for this well-informed generation. 

“We are so quickly and efficiently connected and aware in the current age,” she said. “Shifts in environment, in weather patterns, frequency of natural disasters and the constant presence of war somewhere on the planet help raise our awareness of the fragility as well as the tenacity of life.”

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. 

Read more from the charitable giving special section:

Catholics finding a reason for generosity

From the neighborhood to ends of the world