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What is Philanthropy?

By: Kathy Simas

“Oh gosh, I don’t know!”

“I don’t have one, will you tell me?”

“The study of insects.”

“An artist.”

“I can’t even pronounce it.”

These were some of the answers to the question “what is philanthropy?” as posed in a popular fast-paced video that offers a realistic – and often humorous – glimpse of how the public understands philanthropy, using a series of “people-on-the-street” interviews.

So what is the definition of philanthropy? The word comes from the Greek, meaning ‘love for humanity.’ Modern definitions include the concept of voluntarily giving by an individual or a group to promote the common good and improve the quality of life.

For as far back as I can remember, my parents were philanthropists. Not that they would ever have thought of themselves in that manner. They were always volunteering to help others, giving back to the community and, yes, even providing some funds along the way. They filled roles such as umpire, referee, coach, den mother, room mother, pack master, league president, council board member, parish advisory council member, nonprofit board member, school advisory board member and so on.

When the neighbor down the street had surgery and was not allowed out of bed for several weeks, my mother prepared a meal for the family and then organized the neighbors on the block to take turns bringing meals to the family. I recall my father and my brothers gathering baseball shoes and gloves as well as football cleats and helmets for children who could not afford them. Coat drives for the homeless and bags of canned goods for the shelter were also some of the projects I remember. Those are just a few of many actions on the part of my mother and father. They were always helping people. When my father retired, the first thing he did was begin volunteering at the food pantry.

With five children and busy schedules, they did not need to be that philanthropically involved. However, they felt that organizations needed individuals to step up. My parents did so that others who did not have the time could do what they needed to do and not feel pressured. Their desire to give back to and be a part of their community was very strong and it became a way of life. They believed in involving the family in this rewarding work.

An unintended consequence, I believe, of their community involvement is that they served as wonderful role models and passed on important values to my brothers and me. They strengthened our family with common goals and their actions taught us to think bigger than ourselves. By engaging my brothers and me in many of their activities, they equipped us, the next generation, with values such as empathy and caring and skills to work with others. They increased our connection to the broader community and taught us to give back. We all developed a commitment to service.

To this day, my brothers, myself and our spouses have all actively pursued philanthropic activities and have given back to our various communities in numerous ways. We have engaged our children, as our parents did before us, and our children are giving back to their communities as well.

Little did my parents know that they were creating a legacy of voluntarism and philanthropy in their family and I believe I can speak on behalf of my brothers and myself when I say that we are very thankful.

Kathy Simas is the North County Director for the Santa Barbara Foundation, bringing over 38 years of knowledge of the northern communities to her position.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101