The Power Of Collective Giving

a child holds a globe, computer generated image, mapping image from NASABy Beth Burrell

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. ~ Maya Angelou, author and poet

You can never live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to thank you. ~ Lewis Katz, businessman and philanthropist, in his May 2014 graduation address at Temple University, quoting legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

In the same week, the world lost both Maya Angelou and Lewis Katz. Both seemed committed to leaving the world better than they’d found it. Both came from little and overcame much and grasped the power of generosity, using their special gifts to help others.

Like most people, I am neither famous nor rich. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve looked for more concrete ways to step out of my own world and into someone else’s. Often, I’m not sure I’m making a difference, though I hope to – either through organized community efforts or by simple gestures, spontaneous and unexpected.

Sometimes the smallest gesture can make a difference in someone’s day. I remember once as a teenager being wrapped up in my own world not feeling particularly privileged. My parents were both working full-time and for the first time, we needed outside help cleaning our house. A woman came weekly, quietly working as we bustled in after school. Once my mom asked me to ride with her to the woman’s home to help carry a warm meal to the door. I didn’t understand what it had to do with me. But I rode along, surprised when we stopped at a tiny, clapboard house, fronting a busy two-lane highway. This is where she lives? I thought. She came to the door, hesitant and quiet. But when she saw our gift of food, her face opened up, her gratitude plain. I hadn’t really thought of us as having very much, but afterward, I did.

About a decade ago, I started tutoring weekly in Philadelphia elementary schools and doing more community service through my kids’ schools. Then about six years ago, I went a step further, not because I had more dollars to give necessarily, but because I learned how to combine my efforts with others.

For me, ‘philanthropy’ conjured up images of male millionaires, big-time charity events, and having one’s name etched on an oversized building.

But I began learning about philanthropy on a small scale, thanks to the relatively new, but simple concept of collective giving. This way, people combine their small pots to make an enormous pot, kind of like the organized equivalent of passing the hat in the church basement to help someone in need.

Working together with others,not only to give more money to more organizations, but to learn about the needs of so many in our community,has been extraordinary. So many smaller nonprofits perform Herculean tasks day in and day out, helping kids to overcome the trauma of violence, helping adults learn to read or earn a GED, exposing teens to urban farming, planting hundreds of shade trees in blighted neighborhoods, the list goes on.

These organizations often work on shoestring budgets, endlessly searching for funds, yet remaining passionate and determined. (In the collective giving organization I joined – Impact100 Philadelphia – we just surpassed $1.2 million in the combined dollars we’ve donated since 2009). The work is eye-opening and rewarding, in ways I did not expect and might have scoffed at as a younger woman whose notions of ‘charity work’ were narrow, to say the least. I’ve made dear friends who, touched by a particular organization, become personally involved in a nonprofit they’ve learned about, offering their time and particular skills.

Recently I heard a recording of Maya Angelou on the radio as I made dinner. I stopped to listen because I’ve always enjoyed hearing her words and poetry. But her resonant voice also seems to command it. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


To read more about collective giving efforts in the Philadelphia region, see Collective Giving: Democratizing Philanthropy Through Collaborative Funding.)

Link to Impact100 Philadelphia is


Beth head shotBeth Burrell is a journalist who worked in daily newspaper reporting before winding her way to parent newsletter and freelance writing. Currently, she helps produce the weekly parent e-newsletter for Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, Pa, She lives in Merion, Pa. with her husband and three (sometimes fewer) children.

Read more of Beth’s posts at

Image: “Globe in Hands” by JL via Flickr.

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3 thoughts on “The Power Of Collective Giving

  1. I add a third death of the week to your line-up of giving and influential people–Ruby Dee. Your words rose up to me this morning, equally influential. I will look up and down my environment for small ways and look into collective giving. Alone, I have little to spare, but with others that little may do much good.

    • Hi Susan – I’m sorry to have missed this comment last month. Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate your thoughts and your urge to reach out and help others. Take care.

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