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Taking chances

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[Editor’s note: This is part of continuing series of profiles of civic and philanthropic heroes.]

By Claire Gaudiani

Philanthropists have brought more than their money to the nation’s needs and opportunities.

Many of them have put their “guidelines” on pause, let their imaginations soar, and redefined the way the world worked.

Today, many people may tend to get too tied to identifying pretty tightly the assets from philanthropists as time, talent and treasure.

Most fundraisers know what they want in terms of donors’ time, what element of their talent and, specifically, the number of dollars of their treasure they want.

Fundraising staff may be aborting brilliant solutions to problems that rolled forward and into the world in the ancient times before PowerPoint and strategic frameworks defined most outcomes.

People had given scholarships, for example, to enable needy students to attend school since Lady Molson gave the first scholarship to the president of Harvard in 1647.

A stroke of genius overcame Eugene Lang as he spoke to sixth-graders at his own school many years after he had graduated.

If he had been following the good example of his philanthropy forebears or the case statement from the school, he would have gone to the principal and promised some scholarships to the graduating seniors.

He didn’t.

He looked directly into the eyes of the sixth-graders and saw what they needed that very day.

He gave it to them. They needed hope that day in the sixth grade so they might actually get to their senior year.

Not only did he make that promise, but he inspired many other philanthropists to make the same promise and help young people to connect to their own promise.

But Lang broke the rules of academic support to needy youth, thank goodness.


Claire Gaudiani is a professor at The George H. Heyman Jr. Center Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and the author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism.

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Other columns by Claire Gaudiani:

Helping hands [9.20.04]

Change agent [10.11.04]

Retailing generosity [10.25.04]

Prescription for change [11.22.04]

Whitewashing history [12.06.04]

Breakthrough philanthropy [12.20.04]

Critical thinking [01.03.05]

Tsunami lessons [01.17.05]

Making money [02.01.05]

Pension payoff [02.14.05]

Beyond the self [02.28.05]

Enlightened self-interest [03.14.05]

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