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About Philanthropy : The Definition Of Altruism

al·tru·ism (ltr-zm)
n.
1. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
2. Zoology Instinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individual’s genes, as by benefiting its relatives.
The belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.
Behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.

Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy:

Giving away free umbrellas in the middle of a rainstorm is not that easy.

David Ibnale had no idea how tough it would be to give away umbrellas on Market Street the other day. He figured that he and his free umbrellas were going to change the world. The world had other ideas.

“People thought there was something fishy about it,” Ibnale said. “There wasn’t. It was just free umbrellas.”

Ibnale was one of a dozen people in San Francisco who had been given $100 by a startup charity that is trying to get strangers to start doing nice things for other strangers. It’s a novel concept. Most folks, it turns out, aren’t prepared for it. “What’s the catch?” a man asked.

No catch, replied Ibnale. Take an umbrella. You’re getting wet.

“No, thanks,” the man answered, and kept walking through the rain. Ibnale began keeping count. He asked 27 wet people if they would like to have an umbrella. Seventeen of them said no.

Altruism is something of a novelty these days, and most people have little time to partake. But altruism is the whole idea behind the new charity, called the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy.

It’s the brainchild of Courtney Martin, a South of Market writer who dreamed up the idea four years ago in New York and has handed out a stack of her own $100 bills every year to select good-deed doers who agree to dream up unusual ways to use the dough.

About the same time that Ibnale was handing out umbrellas, Brett Lockspeiser took $100 worth of dollar bills to the 16th Street Mission BART Station and held up a sign.

“I will give you $1 for you to give to someone else,” the sign said. Throughout the evening rush, Lockspeiser stood in the station, trying to give away dollar bills.

“Everyone though I was trying to scam them,” he said. “They wanted to know what I was up to. I told them they just had to promise to give the $1 to someone else.”

After three hours, Lockspeiser had managed to give away only $52. One passer-by did not take the $1 but, suspecting that Lockspeiser was down and out, handed him a pair of socks.
Supporting the arts

Some people who took the dollar bills immediately dropped them into the hat of a street musician a few steps away.

“He was very happy about the whole thing,” Lockspeiser said.

The 12 members of the society got together last week for a party on Folsom Street, to report to Martin on how tough it had been to do nice things with her cash.

Jocelyn Wyatt used her $100 to fill two cardboard boxes with Reese’s peanut butter cups, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and red licorice and mail them off to college students doing volunteer work in Guatemala and Senegal.

The chocolate probably melted on the way south, she said, as Guatemala and Senegal are like that. And she was obliged to kick in $120 more to cover postage.

“It cost me about $120 from my own pocket to ship $100 worth of crap,” she said. “Oh, well.”

Mollie Ricker spent her entire creative philanthropy grant on a tip to a friendly cabdriver, just to see what he would do. Christina Zanfagna used her grant to buy rounds of drinks for strangers in a restaurant.

Someone else bought stamped postcards and asked passers-by to use them to write to their friends, because getting a real piece of mail without a bill inside is a light-up-your-face thing.

Clark Kellogg deposited his $100 in a bank account and left written instructions for his great-granddaughter to withdraw the accumulated total in 100 years and give it away.

With compound interest, he said, the total will be $2.1 million, which is enough for a lot of free umbrellas in the rainstorms of 2110. “I don’t think I’ll be around then,” he said.

Jeremy Mende took a stack of cash to Union Square and offered pairs of strangers $1 apiece if they would have one-on-one conversations with each other. Then he videotaped the conversations and made a home movie.

The strangers talked to each other about sex, fireworks, banana slugs, gin, orgasms and Marlon Brando. Some of the conversations were worth a lot more than $1.

“Are you a therapist or are you on probation?” said one stranger to another stranger.

The best idea seemed to come from Martin’s own mother. She used her $100 to buy 400 quarters and scatter them on a grammar school playground. Recess that day was unlike other recesses.

Martin said the idea for her $100-a-pop society is catching on, and this year there will similar groups in Maui, Krakow, Houston, Vancouver and Los Angeles, a town that can use any break it can get.

The whole thing started four years ago, when Martin used part of a book advance from her publisher to get the foundation rolling, just because it seemed like a positive thing to do in a world that was running short of them.

One hundred dollars, which was not a lot of money four years ago, is less today, she acknowledged. Even during a recession, you can’t buy a lot with $100 besides goodwill, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

“One hundred dollars is not going to change anyone’s life,” Martin said. “It’s a small thing. The money is just a framework for people to use their imagination. It’s like a kick in the ass.”

Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy: creativephilanthropy.org.

Article by Steve Rubenstein

About Philanthropy : The Definitition Of Altruism

 

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