Many Americans are disheartened by recent events and trends. Issues like terrorism, mass murders, global warming, police/citizen violence and death, drug addiction, infectious diseases, economic and social inequality—and more—are generating a tremendous sense of hopelessness.
In addition, the strident partisanship and dysfunction of the current election cycle result in less civility and compassion and make us wonder how we’ll ever be able to pull together to solve the many problems faced by our country and our world.
In such times, it helps to consider philanthropy. Philanthropy is inherently optimistic, reflecting the deeply held belief that we can have a positive impact on the lives of others as well as on stubborn societal issues. Through philanthropy, individuals can make a difference, promote change and improve their communities.
In reality, philanthropy can’t solve every problem. However, I’ve seen charitable acts empower individuals, families, businesses and other groups to see the glass as half full — and to find creative, exciting and promising ways to marshal resources to tackle societal challenges head-on.
When their daughter was born, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan wrote a letter to her that said: “While headlines often focus on what’s wrong, in many ways the world is getting better. Health is improving. Poverty is shrinking. Knowledge is growing. People are connecting. Technological progress in every field means your life should be dramatically better than ours today.”
Finding workable solutions for many of today’s most challenging problems will require a transpartisan approach – one that incorporates the best thinking from all perspectives.
Serious challenges — around issues like hunger, environmental degradation, education, workforce readiness, transportation, alternative energy, equal opportunity, access to health care, veterans’ services, elder care, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, conflict resolution, human trafficking, biodiversity, nutrition and access to justice — can be approached through philanthropy with a shared commitment to finding solutions.
“Philanthropy transcends time, borders, and politics,” said Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Philanthropy is a core American value and will remain one regardless of political or business cycles.”
In families, different political views can prevent members from working together — even when they agree on the seriousness of the bigger problem. Often, family members get tangled in the details and mechanics of tactics, without identifying the common ground that underlays their concern.
Wealth psychologist James Grubman states: “Families can find community in pointing fingers not at each other but toward the horizon, eyes on the shared goals deserving of their attention and resources. Philanthropy is best when families reject going toe-to-toe in favor of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, helping the world. It should not be about defending your preferred tactic. It should be about where you want to go — together.”
Reacting to the mood of the country, more than three dozen foundations recently launched a nationwide campaign called #ReasonsForHope. The purpose of this campaign is to encourage people to break through divisions and find a path toward shared ideals of dignity, equality and justice.
“Though we find ourselves at the crossroads of crisis, we are also in a moment of opportunity. In spite of anguish and uncertainty, ideas, inspiration and action abound,” states the campaign.
In disheartening and divisive times, philanthropy offers hope for the future as well as an opportunity for people who have political and philosophical differences to work together to successfully address pressing problems.
Oprah Winfrey states: “I choose to rise up out of that storm and see that in moments of desperation, fear and helplessness, each of us can be a rainbow of hope, doing what we can to extend ourselves in kindness and grace to one another. And I know for sure that there is no ‘them’ — there’s only ‘us.’”
Bruce DeBoskey, J.D., is a philanthropic strategist working across the U.S. with The DeBoskey Group to help individuals, families, businesses, and foundations design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans