What Homelessness Taught Me About Philanthropy


I remember the first time I realized what homelessness was.  I was riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with my mother and a man stood in the median of the major intersection holding a sign and a cup for change.  I don’t remember what the sign said, but I do remember his soiled clothes, overgrown beard, dirty hands, and grocery cart full of what looked like trash.  Through a lengthy Q&A session my mother explained that the man was most likely homeless, which meant he had no stable shelter.  From that day on every time we came to that intersection we put something in his cup, even if I had to give up the money I’d otherwise held on to so tightly.  In some ways, my giving to the homeless guy who I’d never met before was obligatory.  Not the type of obligatory giving that puts money in the cup because you feel pressured, but the kind that’s born out of the awareness that there is some basic human need that I am privy to, that someone else is lacking.

Being a business owner does not exclude us from the same awareness I developed upon witnessing the homeless man’s need.  Despite the legal separation that businesses and corporations have from individuals, these entities are run by human beings.  Our actions involve and affect other human beings.  And our inaction affects human beings all the more.  While the holiday season is the time when most are encouraged to give (out of holiday cheer and last minute tax write-offs), I’d encourage any business to make philanthropy a part of their organization’s culture. 

Here are a few tips:

·      Commit to giving a certain amount by the end of the year and factor that into the budget. 

·      Start at the beginning of the year so that you can pace yourself. 

·      Involve others as a way to encourage giving within your community and raise awareness about the organization.    

·      Give to multiple organizations to spread the love and broaden your influence.

·      If you’re a new business or your budget is limited, volunteer.  Tiime can be a good substitute for money. 

I don’t need to go on about the benefits of giving because it’s a known fact that you reap what you sow.  Giving is easy when you operate with the truth that the purpose of any business is to serve, and there’s no service more fulfilling than contributing to the needs of others.