Several years ago I acted as the executor to my aunt’s estate. It wasn’t a big job, but it did take time. The estate was not large; indeed, I would describe my aunt’s life, in the end, as not wealthy at all.
What I found, as I went through my aunt’s affairs, was that she was a very charitable person. Living on a very meagre income of Old Age Security, CPP and some very tiny annuities, she found the ability to make a regular donation to two Toronto hospitals which I know had been important to her in her life journey.
One of the hospitals, Princess Margaret, was where she had been treated for breast cancer and with whom she participated in many clinical drug studies. She died there.
I remember my father asking her about a new cancer drug which had been announced. She responded, "That’s last year’s news. I’m already two generation beyond that!"
David Wilson, in an editorial in in the February 2015 issue of The United Church Observer, points out that the roots of the word "philanthropy" come from the Greek and mean "love of humanity".
When we think of philanthropy, most of us think of big ticket items like an arena, a hospital wing or a university program. And that’s all well and good. But philanthropy is more than that. It’s the small, regular gifts, too.
Wilson goes on in his editorial to report on a conference on philanthropy held in Toronto last year.
A gathering of all the movers and shakers in philanthropy in Canada heard Gordon Floyd, one of Canada’s leaders in understanding the Canadian philanthropy scene, share a lot of bad news.
The number of Canadians who have made charitable gifts has dropped by 24% since 1990. And while the size of gifts increased until 2011, that has now stopped.
What is even more concerning is that 25% of those who make charitable donations do it for one reason; greed. They do it so they can get a charitable tax receipt. Fewer and fewer are giving to charitable causes of all kinds because they want to be philanthropic or they want to show their love of humanity.
Floyd went on to say that he believes the reason for the decline in philanthropy is the decline of religion.
Research hasshown that people of faith give more to charitable causes. According to Statistics Canada, people of religious faith "often have stronger pro-social and altruistic values, which motivate them to give more of their time and money to others."
Philanthropy is not limited to religious charities. People of faith make gifts in many areas of their life.
In addition, Floyd said, society is becoming more insular and less communal. We relate to each other as exclusive clusters of like-minded people, often in virtual communities. And that insular mind is not philanthropic.
Floyd suggested that the solution is not to return to religion but to strengthen partnerships in the community.
In Grey Bruce we are no different than Toronto or the rest of Canadian society. I have had conversations with other leaders in the charitable sector. Giving to charitable causes is down and the environment for philanthropy is tough. Charitable organizations have been forced to lay off staff, reduce programs or shut down entirely.
We can make a difference.
I ask you to think about your own level of philanthropy; your love of humanity and how you express it. Your philanthropy matters to this community and to all of us.
I know that people in Grey Bruce are generous when there is an expressed need. But we need to bump it up a notch and be philanthropic in our outlook and in our whole lives.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.