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Who Are You in the Community?

In convening the Maine Insights conversations around the state, I ask this question a lot. In fact, I make it a point to start the Maine Insights conversations by asking all of the participants to introduce themselves and state one word that describes who they are in the community. The words we hear are amazing:

Organizer. Activist. Advocate. Connector. Listener. Learner. Teacher. Fighter. Lover. Even Curmudgeon.

I am also amazed by a word that we never hear: Philanthropist.

No one has ever said it. Not one time.

I get it. Most people don’t think of themselves as philanthropists. And even many who do are unlikely to claim that identity in a public forum.

Let’s be honest, the word does conjure up Rich Uncle Pennybags. You know, the Monopoly man with the top hat, cane, and plutocratic mustache. Yes. He has a name. It is Rich Uncle Pennybags. Who knew? Thank you, Interwebs!

At the same time, the power and potential of Maine Initiatives – our vision of progressive, social change philanthropy – is rooted in our conviction that we are all individually and collectively responsible for the level of justice and equity that exists in our community. We cannot cede this responsibility to others. It must be us.

And, it is rooted in our knowledge that we all have untapped and unrealized resources and assets for advancing justice and equity. This means all of the intangibles each of us bring: vision, values, voice, knowledge, relationships, etc. But it also means money.

We all have the capacity – individually and collectively — to be progressive social change philanthropists.

This is our work. Raising and pooling many small (and a few large) donations from hundreds of people around the state each year, we create a fund whose power is greater than the sum of the individual donations.

This is synergy. In the same way that a chorus of voices resonates more powerfully than does each of those voices in isolation, we transform many individual donations into a powerful Fund for Change.

This is democratizing philanthropy. An individual can contribute any amount: $1, $10, $25. We combine that donation with hundreds of other donations and make substantial, transformative grants to organizations advancing justice in Maine in unique and important ways.

This is Maine Initiatives. Be a philanthropist. Top hat and cane not required.

–Phil Walsh

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