I just returned from a magnificent trip to Ireland.
I forgot about home for a while, relaxed in a sea of green landscapes, walked almost every minute I was awake, and took hundreds of useless photographs of sheep and stone fences.
Back in Bradenton, it’s easy to connect traveling through the Emerald Isle with what I spend most of my time thinking about here at home — philanthropy and how to make it work best for those who give and for those who receive.
As you consider your personal journey in giving, here are some thoughts to help you enjoy what you choose to share with the world.
Go to the places that attract you
There are thousands of places in this beautiful globe to visit and thousands of compelling causes that beckon for your help. You can choose between dividing your resources into many smaller pieces, supporting more nonprofits. Or you can focus your giving and make a bigger difference in one or two areas that truly attract you.
At Manatee Community Foundation, we are often asked which way is best. This is a matter of personal choice, and there is no right or wrong answer. But I admire donors who have discipline in their giving.
We are constantly exposed to requests from friends, slick direct mail pieces and new Facebook campaigns. These opportunities are sometimes just right for us, but they can also be distractions.
When I first made the decision to give up a few smaller trips for Ireland a couple of years ago, it was instantly energizing. Listening to the inner voice of what attracts you provides experiences that are poignant and infinitely satisfying.
If you pursue this philosophy in giving, you will never be sorry.
Journey is more important than destination
Traveling through Ireland, the unexpected places we discovered along the way enhanced our visit in countless ways.
We found the grave of W.B. Yeats in an unpretentious section of a little cemetery. We met an artist who acquired an old Donegal letter press she found by mistake — now central to her work. The first print she sold is now in my home. These discoveries and others like them were more meaningful than our pre-planned destinations.
In charitable giving, we rarely reach a destination. Our giving is an investment in human gain, but the dollars we deploy rarely “solve” issues completely. The challenges are too complicated, and new ones will continue to arise.
Along the journey, we have an opportunity to learn, listen to people who have different perspectives, and use these conversations to refine our own limited world view. The hope is that we can better collaborate, find new and better approaches, and hopefully improve ourselves in the process.
Giving is enriched by many unexpected intersections of people and ideas. Make the most what comes across your path.
Find a guide when you need one
There’s nothing like advice from the locals. In Ireland, we found ourselves exploring a colony of cliff-nesting sea birds on Rathlin Island and befriending a taxi driver who helped us understand the troubled history of Londonderry through the eyes of his 17 brothers and sisters. We would have missed these and other experiences if not for the advice of friendly Irish men and women who gave us suggestions along the way.
In the ways you seek to make a difference, there are local guides who can help. Talk to people who are knowledgeable about philanthropy. They can open your world in ways that will maximize your tax benefits, identify the organizations getting the most effective results in the areas that interest you, and help you think about your charitable legacy.
Your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial planner are a few of the professionals who can advise you. People in your network who are experienced in giving locally and elsewhere around the country are tremendously valuable peers. And community foundations staff are always available to make expert recommendations.
Remember the old, go for the new
The Irish know their history and celebrate their triumphs in music, great writing and a love for togetherness. But they also know how to move forward. The country is an incredible mix of old and new architecture, ideas, political movement.
Ireland reminds us to remember what we have learned from past experiences, to celebrate the best of ourselves, and to be bold in our vision for the future. This is what philanthropy asks of us too.
Long ago James Joyce said, “Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
We learn so much from traveling, and so much about ourselves through giving. Both are always worth the journey.
Susie Bowie is the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation, a charitable foundation that strengthens the community through philanthropy, education and service — for now and for the future. Email: SBowie@ManateeCF.org. Phone: 941-747-7765.