Several weeks ago I survived one of the toughest meetings of my career. A group of philanthropists had requested some time on my calendar and when the group’s leader called she asked that a significant block of time be secured as they had a number of issues they wanted to discuss.
The philanthropists arrived early to our office and were ready to begin promptly at our designated hour. I offered them some afternoon refreshments but they were clearly ready to get straight to work.
Many times when donors come to my office they are looking for me to lead the discussion, but this group of concerned citizens had a set agenda and had clearly done considerable research prior to our meeting.
They asked insightful questions about issues they cared about including education, the environment and animals. Their questions were well constructed and thoughtful. The group challenged me when my answers didn’t make sense and they also had ideas on how they could make things better in our community. There were questions they asked that I didn’t have the answers. “Why would we let kids sleep out on the street? Why are we tearing down trees? And why would anyone hurt a helpless animal?” Most importantly they wanted to know how they could help and make a difference in our community.
They were spending time with me to gather facts and information that they would compile into a report and share with a larger group of caring citizens- their fellow classmates at Renaissance Montessori School in Fort Myers. Renaissance has programs for toddlers, primary and elementary students and the group that was meeting with me was from their elementary classrooms and through experiential learning that is a hallmark of a Montessori education they were investigating what it meant to be a strategic philanthropist.
The school has an Agency Endowment Fund at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to support their work, but that fund was set up by well-meaning adults. The founder and head of school Kathleen Leitch felt it was important to engage the students in a meaningful way, and didn’t want the design of the charitable work of the school to be outside of the students reach.
On their website Renaissance reminds all of us that while we want to teach children about life, children actually teach us what life is all about.
At the end of our time together, which flew by, the students presented me with a piece of artwork. I told them how much I would love to have it in my office, but they quickly explained they would like me to sell it and place the money in their fund.
One of the questions on the way out was, “How do you become a philanthropist?” I smiled and assured them they already were.
I am looking forward to many more meetings with them. If you have some unanswered questions, let me know, I obviously like a challenge! Email me at [email protected]