Am I a Philanthropist?

July 07 2017 • Leslie Hartog


This question occurred to me as I was reading an article about “Harriet Lake, 95, local philanthropist, and hat enthusiast” (and a 100 Women Strong member, although the article didn’t mention that). She was being honored for her lifelong support of the arts and her recent $2 million donation to the Orlando Ballet. Actually, two questions occurred to me: “Why do they always tell us people’s age?” and “Am I a philanthropist?”

When you think about the slightly intimidating word philanthropist, names like Harriet Lake, Harris Rosen, and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind – wealthy people that write really big checks and do really big things – not regular people like me. Like Harriet, I wear many hats that fit me well – business woman, mother, tennis enthusiast—but I was not sure I could pull off philanthropist.

Merriam-Webster defines a philanthropist as a person who gives money and time to help make life better for other people. The definition does not say anything about the size of your wealth or the checks that you write or about how you volunteer. So, maybe I might be a philanthropist.

In fact, as members and supporters of 100 Women Strong, we are all philanthropists. Collective giving circles, like 100 Women Strong, broaden the definition of philanthropists, allowing relatively smaller donors to pool their resources, leverage their relationships and areas of expertise to make a big impact. Giving circles also enable donors to have more choice and involvement, while becoming more effective and engaged philanthropists.

Colleen Willoughby, who started the first giving circle in Seattle in 1995, explains four components of giving circles that make them such an effective and enduring kind of philanthropy:

  • Social: collaborating with others who share your passions
  • Educational: the satisfaction of hands-on learning and experience
  • Influential: the power of joint efforts to achieve advocacy and influence
  • Security: the security of having a philanthropic structure, robust processes and experienced people behind you

According to Willoughby, women tend to join giving circles because they want to participate in high-impact giving to transform their communities, then stay because of the vibrancy of the women the groups attract. That sounds about right for me.

The truth is, there is no one way to be a philanthropist, a person who gives money and time to help make life better for other people. Make no mistake, as members and supporters of 100 Women Strong, we are all philanthropists.

So, try on that hat. Add the title to your Facebook and LinkedIn pages and when you introduce yourself. “I’m Leslie Hartog, business woman, mother, and philanthropist.” (I left out my age. No one needs to know that).

Leslie Hartog is a co-chair of 100 Women Strong, an initiative of Central Florida Foundation. Click here to learn more about 100 Women Strong.

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