Valentine’s Day: Gifts that Keep On Giving

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Many of us may have plans to spend the day surrounded by beautiful roses while enjoying chocolates and romantic dinners (did you remember to book that reservation?). More often than not, we get so caught up in the romanticized hype of Valentine’s that we neglect how truly philanthropic it could be.  Below are a few gift ideas that not only come from the heart but will be appreciated for many Valentine’s Days to come.


You and your co-workers are around each other A LOT! Why not show each other how much you appreciate each other by sharing candy grams filled with kind words. The candy gram prices can be as low as $1 and all proceeds can be donated to your local charity.

vday candy pic


There are 260 nursing homes in the Boston, Mass., metropolitan area. It may be seemingly impossible to reach every resident at each nursing home, but it wouldn’t hurt to find the nursing home closest to you and spread some love. Here’s what you can do:

  • Reach out to your local nursing home facility
  • Find out the total number of residents and staff
  • Gather a group of friends
  • Decorate Valentine’s Day cards and have them delivered to your local nursing. You could even hand deliver the cards yourself. The added joy you will feel from actually seeing those happy faces will be magical.

 nursing home pic


February is definitely the month of love and not only because of Valentine’s Day. This month is also known as  National Wedding Month. Planning a wedding in itself is a bit of a headache and adding a philanthropic edge to it may seem daunting. It’s not. There are so many things, big and small, that you can do. Every little bit counts. Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of accepting traditional wedding gifts, create a charity registry
  • Thank your vendors and guest by giving them charity gift cards
  • After your wedding, donate your wedding dress to Brides Against Breast Cancer

wedding image

Great Ways to Give Thanks

David K. DonovanAs we approach the start of the holiday season, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with extra paper work related to the end of the fourth quarter of 2015, bogged down with travel plans and generally stressed out by logistics. However, the end of the year – particularly around the holidays is also a great time to set aside some time to reflect on the positive aspects of the closing year, and to give thanks for the innumerable gifts currently in your possession. This is also a great time of year to show your gratitude by helping others in need.

Sharing your good fortune with others not only generates good karma and goodwill, but it also helps you remained focused on the great things in your life instead of being weighed down by the distractors. Below are a few easy ways to express your gratitude during the holidays.

1. Donate funds to a cause you care about. Although this may seem like the easy route when it comes to showing your gratitude, donations are important when it comes to helping out a cause or charity. Do some research into causes you care about and consider becoming a regular donor or member. Even if your contributions are small, being a consistent giver to a particular charity is more helpful to the charity because they are better able to plan their budgets.

2. Volunteer. The wonderful thing about volunteering your time is that you often have the chance to interact directly with the people that you want to serve. While providing charities and causes with capital is of course very important and critical to the operations of these organizations, there is something incredibly satisfying about giving your time and your talents to a group that is working towards something that you believe in personally. Take some time to research what organizations are looking for help – particularly when there may be an uptick in need due to the holidays.

3. Organize a fundraiser. While organizing a fundraiser takes time and planning, the rewards are priceless. Whether you are looking to host a low-key dinner at your home or perhaps organize a full scale gala event, start your planning early and connect with organizations that you and causes that you believe in. Get some guidance from that charity so that you know what their immediate and long-term goals are so that you can best aid them in obtaining their objectives.

4. Donate clothes, furniture and items you no longer need. While many of us look at spring-time as the optimal time to clean out our closets and pantries, it’s also a great way to start the new year with a clean slate. By doing a big scale clean out of your home, you will not only create more space and calm for the new year, but you will likely provide goods for people when they can use them the most – during the holidays. Find out the standards at a local soup kitchen or shelter in terms of what kinds of products they are currently accepting, and figure out what you need in order to get those products to people who can use them.

5. Reach out to neighbors and acquaintances and find out their holiday plans. The winter holidays are very closely associated with spending time with family and loved ones, which can be difficult for those who don’t have that option. Therefore, consider inviting those without holiday plans to join you and your family for a Thanksgiving meal.


Changing How We Think about Charity

One of the most popular TED talks about charity comes from activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta who spoke about the topic back in the spring of 2013. During his talk, Pallotta sheds light on the double standard that feeds into our contradictory and ineffective relationship to charitable organizations. He claims that too many nonprofits, are rewarded for their frugal spending habits as opposed to being applauded for the work that they actually accomplish. Pallotta suggests that instead of looking at meager expenses with piety or morality, he implores the audience to reward, acknowledge and support charities that that accomplish big goals – even if that incurs large costs! During this talk, Dan Pallotta suggests that we change the way we think about changing the world.


Dissolving the Stigma: New Study Reveals Link between Creativity and Autism

David K. Donovan LearningAccording to a new study , those with autism have the ability to excel in creative thinking and processes. Researchers discovered that people with autism were far more likely to produce a creative explanation or solution  to problem-solving questions despite other traits that can cause severe social impairment and make it difficult to maintain a job.

The brains of people with autism function in a way that is unorthodox, allowing them to create unique and original ideas (something that the rest of us often struggle with).

Hoping to change the stigma often associated with autism, this study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, can serve as a rallying hub for those interested in changing the perception of autism. There has been an overflow of support from the acting community. This includes actress Daryl Hannah, who was diagnosed with autism as a little girl. She shared, “It’s time people with autism and other learning difficulties are seen as people first. I want to educate people without learning disabilities that I’m not all that different to them, and I want people who do have learning disabilities to feel better about themselves by showing my problems. They are not alone.”

What has been reiterated over and over again from those who diagnosed with autism is that it’s not about “helping” or “allowing” them to participate in daily activities. It’s about understanding their needs and encouraging them to utilize their own voice to express themselves.

Cian Binchy, another actor with autism commented, “There just aren’t any people with learning disabilities – in this field I’m the only one. It’s because people with learning disabilities may need a bit of extra support, and a lot of theatre companies and performers can’t be bothered…The boundaries and barriers we’ve placed in the country over mental illness can be difficult.”

There are many misconceptions that have been perpetuated as the norm when they are not. Many see those with autism as antisocial and lacking empathy, but that is not always the case. Individuals should be examined and judged by their own actions (like we all hope to be) and not by a stigma.

Studies such as this coupled with the numerous organizations, individuals and causes lobbying for a social and professional changes are truly galvanizing this movement.

People like Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of the charity Ambitious about Autism, are truly campaigning to encourage employers to view people with learning disabilities as potential candidates in their hiring process. No one should be judged on one single aspect of their being.


Kofi Annan Commends Philanthropists of Today

David DonovanRecently, Kofi Annan; former Secretary-General of the United Nations, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize and current Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation, took to Linkedin to share his thoughts on modern philanthropists. In the beginning of the article, Annan confides that throughout his storied career he has witnessed numerous changes in how we collectively approach global issues. But he claims that the seeming resurgence of philanthropy in recent memory has truly been a change for the better.

david donovanAnnan recounts that the intractable global challenges have been tremendously aided by the involvement and contributions of today’s major philanthropists. He recounts the integral role that the Gates Foundation played as an early contributor to the launch of the Global Fund as a means of fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

According to Annan, The Gates Foundation not only provided additional resources, but approached the task at hand with a mentality completely different that of the U.N..

Annan goes on to describe modern-day philanthropists as courageous innovators unafraid to implement creative solutions in the hopes of delivering the desired outcomes. He also describes the inherent understanding among these philanthropists of a need to cultivate partnerships across many sectors in order to successfully attack an issue or cause. While some NGOs may fear the power that these philanthropists yield, the philanthropists acknowledge the value of collaboration and rarely act solely on their own whims.

Modern day philanthropists are usually very well-considered and thoughtful when it comes to contributing to different causes. However, there is still room for their own convictions and beliefs to be expressed in the process. Many philanthropists choose a cause or causes that are dear to them or meaningful to them in some way. Although many still contribute anonymously, many members of the “new breed of philanthropy champions” have increased the visibility of certain causes and questioned traditional thinking about different issues through openly discussing their cause publicly.

Annan cites the growing number of successful companies that have thrived in Africa then gone on to set up charitably foundations there. These foundations bear a certain amount of credibility owing to the skill sets that these philanthropists bring from their professional lives to these more personal endeavors.

Annan ends his article expressing how delighted he is to see this “next generation of philanthropists leading the way [in doing more than funding, but coming up with great ideas and focusing on making these ideas work in practice]”

These sorts of observations from someone who has truly dedicated his career to fighting the challenging global issues of our time are encouraging and hopefully, we can take note of the iconic philanthropists of today and apply some of their lessons to our own engagement in charitable causes.

Warren Buffett: How To Give

David K Donovan

Recently, Forbes held its 4th Annual Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy in New York. This summit gathers some of the most powerful and wealthy people in the world today. These industry heavyweights assemble in order to have critical conversations regarding how to best utilize their resources  to combat some of today’s most pressing issues. This event includes ceremonial recognition for those that have proven themselves to be innovative and committed to philanthropic causes.Business magnateWarren Buffett shared his unique perspective on philanthropy both with Forbes Magazine editor Randall Lane and during his speech this year.

Mr. Buffett presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Philanthropy to Bill and Melinda Gates for their continued dedication to improving the lives of others. In discussing the tireless efforts of the recipients, Mr. Buffett also shared some of his own thoughts on how to approach philanthropy with the audience. Although Buffett felt comfortable drawing certain parallels between leading a company and overseeing a not-for-profit or a charity organization, he also addressed the significant differences.

His points highlighted the dangers of always applying a corporate mindset to a philanthropic cause.

The first point that Buffett made, was the importance of delegation and hiring. He talked about how in business he has a manager responsible for a $4 billion dollar business to whom he rarely speaks. However, Buffett trusts him to do the job and subsequently provides that manager with the space necessary to do it. That’s not to say that Buffett is completely disconnected from that business. He discussed the delicate balance of being able to delegate while still staying informed. To delegate well, Buffett identified what tasks are non-essential for him to perform personally and figuring out who is not only capable, but determining who he trusts will do the job. If any of those aspects are missing from this person, it’s likely that the delegation would be short-lived.

The way that Buffett’s vision for philanthropy truly differs from his thoughts on business has to do with the projected timeline. Buffett states that he has no way of knowing what issues will be most pressing in the future. However, he can clearly evaluate what societal ills exist now. With that in mind, he is much more focused on the present when it comes to giving. Leading by example, Buffett donates a significant portion of his wealth to philanthropic causes encouraging short-term spending. When making business decisions, Buffett considers the future health of his business even after he is no longer there to oversee it. Buffett suggests that while planning is a key component in contributing sizable donations to philanthropic causes, there is a sense of immediacy that’s absent in the case of strategizing on behalf of an enduring company. And finally, Buffett suggest that other potential philanthropists reconsider or even abandon their current metrics for success. He suggests that being so focused on numbers won’t accurately reflect the “rate of success” of a charity. Instead, he acknowledges that some causes may need time to establish quantifiable “success”, if it ever happens at all.

The big takeaway from the most generous man today, is that while not-for-profit organizations should take hints from their for-profit counterparts on the executive side, philanthropy is a whole other beast.