Past Programs | Thoughtful Giving
Philanthropy as Civic Engagement
Why do people give? Why do certain people give to certain causes but not to others? How do you know if your giving is doing any good? These are the sorts of provocative questions that were considered in Thoughtful Giving. A former program initiative of the Maine Humanities Council, with primary funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Thoughtful Giving brought together citizens across Maine in reading and discussion programs that explored the intersections between giving, serving, and civic life. Readings were drawn from a wide variety of sources, and include works of fiction, poetry, biography, history and sacred texts.
Personal convictions about giving are closely held and often private in the United States, especially in New England. One of the ongoing challenges of Thoughtful Giving was convincing potential audience members that a group discussion on these themes can be worthwhile and engaging without being invasive. This program was not a fund-raising tool, but a chance to reflect, in a safe, hospitable environment, on some core underpinnings of our culture.
Here in Maine, a state with one of the highest per capita populations of not-for-profit organizations, those underpinnings are rarely out of view. In many cases, charitable activities contribute to the very elements of a place that set it aside from everywhere else. Arguably the greatest donation ever made to Maine was the gift of Mount Katahdin and the surrounding lands that now comprise Baxter State Park by a visionary governor, Percival Baxter. Thanks to his generosity, this iconic landmark has been preserved for public benefit.
Katahdin joins dozens of community libraries, countless churches, and thousands of civic organizations as visible reminders of how acts of philanthropy have helped to define Maine and our civic landscape. And the visible is matched many times over by philanthropic efforts that have no physical presence, the work of webs of individuals. These might include a local soup kitchen, a group of volunteers organized to maintain an old cemetery, or one of the countless other charitable organizations that support culture, education, and social improvement in the community.
Regardless of scope, to some degree every citizen gives, and every citizen serves. Philanthropy is not just about money; it’s a central element in understanding how our culture does its most important work.