What does a philanthropist look like?

Howdy Oxbridge students!

Over the next two weeks you will clarify your team mission and vision. You will also start researching organizations that align with your team’s guiding interest. Now is the point in the course when you really start acting the part of philanthropist. How does this label sit with you?

Some of you may be thinking, “yeah, yeah philanthropy is about ‘tending to mankind’ and all that jazz but really all the philanthropists I’ve heard of are people who are superbly rich. Not only that, but they are all white men. I don’t fit that type, so where does that leave me?”

I hear you. Take a look at some of our country’s best know philanthropists.

John D RockefellerWarren-BuffettBill-gates2John D. Rockefeller. Warren Buffett. Bill Gates. All titans of business who amassed the greatest fortunes in our country’s history…not exactly a United Colors of Benetton ad.


But sometimes all it takes is a little digging to unearth different stories and different kinds of philanthropists.

Take Lyda Hill, a Dallas billionaire who believes science holds the key to a wide range of social problems. Ms. Hill was the only unmarried woman among the top 50 donors last year. She gave away $63.2 million.
Lyda-HillWomen philanthropists are often portrayed as nurturing, listening and focused on “feminine” causes such as children and the arts.

Lyda Hill flies in the face of that:

“There are lots of women who could give, but the husband wants to support his alma mater,” she says. “Well I say, ‘Get a life, lady!’”

Ok, so still we must grapple with the question of money.

Can you truly call yourself a philanthropist if you are not a wealthy person?

What if we thought a philanthropist could look like this:


This is a drawing of Oseola McCarty, a self-described washer woman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Toward the end of her life, Ms. McCarty met a banker in town to discuss her legacy. She had no children, only a fifth-grade education, and struggled to plan her estate. The banker places 10 dimes on the table in front of her; each represented 10% of her assets. He also wrote the names of her five named beneficiaries on slips of paper and asked Oseola to divvy up the coins. After slowly setting aside coins for her cousins and church, Ms. McCarty held 6 coins destined for the University of Southern Mississippi. These coins represented what would become a scholarship fund for African American teachers – the profession Ms. McCarty dreamed of during her days taking in laundry.

Oseola McCarty’s bequest of $150,000 to the university represented the largest ever by an African American. It inspired over 600 donors to add $350,000 to the fund. You should read her whole story here – what an amazing woman.

Bill Gates says that the role of philanthropy is as a catalyst, to get important work started. Oseola McCarty was certainly a catalytic philanthropist. More elusive and difficult than simply donating one’s own fortune, is the ability to inspire outlandish generosity in other people. Maybe it’s time we add some new faces to the cast of American philanthropists.

What’s in my brown bag

Hi Oxbridge Students,

Well it looks like from your blogs that the brown paper bag exercise was not even the least bit torturous – despite us meeting first thing in the morning!

Week 2 might be my favorite class in the Main Street Philanthropy program. Not only do you find out what teams you are on – you all chose:

Animal Care, Hospitals & People with Disabilities, Hunger, Veterans, Emergency & Disaster Relief and Health Research

but you also get to share your brown paper bag items (three small objects that help tell the story of your life). It’s fascinating to here students talk about what is central to their lives – whether car keys, a college pamphlet or a stuffed animal. It’s impossible to be bored!

As I walked around the room, I saw smiles of recognition as you realized that you shared something surprising in common with someone on your team. My favorite example of this is that Tahira and Evan both brought in little stuffed animals to symbolize their love of tigers and dogs. AND both students are on the Animal Care team – everything is falling into place!

photo 2photo5








Ok, just so I don’t feel left out, here are my brown paper bag items. First is the one I shared with the class – The Wall Street Journal clipping:


As I explained in class, this item is about my relationship with my grandfather and his desire to share his knowledge and curiosity about the world with his grandchildren. I am so grateful to have grown up with bright and loving grandparents. They remind me about the continuity in our family. My grandfather’s gift of a subscription to the WSJ was like him saying, “Let’s have this store of information in common. Let’s chat about it.” Unfortunately, truth be told, those papers are piling up so after this post I’m going to go catch up!

Next up is a little wooden nativity carving:Nativity

I bought this on a trip to Italy with my husband-to-be, so on one level it represents my love of traveling with him. The carving also represents my collection of nativities (a passion I share with my grandma). I didn’t grow up in a very religious family, but we always celebrated the advent season and the Christmas story with special family traditions, some dating back to Sweden (our “home” country). Even as a small kid, I was fascinated by the story of Mary and Joseph…Someday I hope to show my collection to my own kids as part of our Christmas celebrations.

And lastly, the small painted stone from Dominica, the island where I lived and worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer:

DominicaStoneThe stone represents the beauty of this volcanic island. It was the most breathtaking place I have ever lived. The experience of living in a small farming village (population 500) is one that I carry with me but isn’t always obvious. Like a stone in my pocket, it’s easy to forget about it as I go through my daily routine of hot showers, driving my car and picking up dry cleaning… But then something will happen, like I’ll notice a storm hovering over the ocean or see someone who looks like one of the kids who befriended me and suddenly the whole experience will come rushing back. Here is a photo of me doing one of my favorite things in Dominica (reading to sweet little kids):

Ok keep up the GREAT work and keep blogging!


Welcome Oxbridge Students – Government and Philanthropy

Hello students from Oxbridge Academy!

I can’t wait to meet you and your parents at orientation next week.

Since you will be integrating the Main Street Philanthropy Program into a government class, I thought I might share some interesting connections between philanthropy and government throughout the history of the United States.

Think back to the government shutdown of last year. You may remember stories of government workers on furlough and closures of national parks and monuments like the Statue of Liberty. You may not have heard of this Texan couple, John and Laura Arnold.

arnoldsThe Arnolds donated $10 million to prevent Head Start programs from shutting down. Head Start is a popular government program that dates back to the 1960s. Designed to help poor children prepare for elementary school, Head Start provides early education, health and nutrition services to parents and kids.

This move was an interesting reversal of the more common relationship between government and philanthropy in which an entrepreneurial philanthropist catalyzes a change that government decides is too valuable not to adopt and support.

Bill Gates has said the the role of philanthropy is to get things started, and this is especially true in its relationship to government.

In the late 1800s a poor boy from Scotland was working as a bobbin boy in a textile mill in Pennsylvania. The boy was determined to educate himself, but his requests to access the public library were turned dAndrew_Carnegie,_three-quarter_length_portrait,_seated,_facing_slightly_left,_1913-cropown. The boy – Andrew Carnegie – could not afford the $2 membership fee. This story planted the seed for Carnegie’s catalytic philanthropy.

Carnegie would live to start many things in his life. Although he amassed a great fortune from his steel empire, he declared “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie was a fervent believer in helping the poor help themselves. The 1, 689 libraries he built were free to the public, designed to be tool for self-betterment he was denied as a boy. A revolutionary idea for its time, and one that state federal governments now fund.



Ok, one more story…

In the 1950s a wealthy engineer named John Dorr and his wife changed the face of American roads and saved thousands of drivers from deadly accidents.

In those days, highways had only a painted line down the middle of the road. As a result, drivers drove much like I did when I first got my permit: hugging the center line for fear they would veer off into a ditch. A dangerous pattern that often resulted in collisions.

One night Dorr’s wife wondered aloud why the roads didn’t have lines on the outside. Wouldn’t creating driving lanes reduce accidents? Dorr liked the idea and pitched it to highway commissioners in New York and Connecticut. He spent years funding studies to show that the expense of painting additional lines on roads would result in lives saved and advocating for driving lanes. The rest is history.

Now the vast majority of us drive on roads with clearly painted lanes – and we have an engineer philanthropist and his wife to thank for it!

So what do you think? Should government and philanthropists work together? How and in what arenas?

Here’s to a lively conversation!