This week on July 4th we celebrate Independence Day – the birth of American democracy. The day the people of the United States of America declared the “self-evident truth” of each individual’s equality and birthright of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Like democracy, charity predates America’s birth – and like democracy the American experience has changed charity, evolving our understanding of the philanthropic enterprise, with lasting international impact. While the American founding was not thought of as a “charitable enterprise” what is surprising is how much American charity, and international charity, has nonetheless followed the “self-evident truths” of our birth.
The act of donating is itself an expression of donors “pursuing their happiness” – seeking those causes they are most passionate about – and establishing their legacy through their support. What better describes our charitable giving practices than championing greater equality through funding educational opportunity or seeking social justice; or giving to food, shelter and health care programs that support the life of our fellow citizens, while developing self-reliance and independence that promote their liberty; or charitably funding arts, cultural and educational institutions and experiences that allow individuals the pursuit of happiness.
Yet as we take pause to celebrate our legacy – let us not just celebrate the charitable successes of the past, but also look to those in our future. One hundred years ago on July 4th President Woodrow Wilson said at Independence Hall in Philadelphia,
“Liberty does not consist, my fellow-citizens, in mere general declarations of the rights of man. It consists in the translation of those declarations into definite action. Therefore, standing here where the declaration was adopted, reading its businesslike sentences, we ought to ask ourselves what there is in it for us. There is nothing in it for us unless we can translate it into the terms of our own conditions and of our own lives. We must reduce it to what the lawyers call a bill of particulars. It contains a bill of particulars, but the bill of particulars of 1776. If we would keep it alive, we must fill it with a bill of particulars of the year 1914.”
If we would keep the American charitable spirit alive we must ask what we will do in 2014 – in the coming months – and what will the coming years hold for us? Your charitable legacy makes a difference in what our future holds. It’s time to make your difference. It’s time to plan your great American legacy.
Hiram Wurf is Charitable Catalyst, Managing Director of The Advise Us Fund®. The Advise Us Fund is an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that offers a donor-centric approach to charitable giving. Hiram formerly served as Executive Director and Founder of the nonprofit 12 State, Inc. and as Marketing Communications Manager for Cool Choices, Inc. He has more than 16 years experience in nonprofit development, marketing and communications including nine years administering grants at a family foundation.
The information in this blog post is general and educational. It is not intended nor should it be construed as legal, tax, investing or financial advice. Individuals should consult with their own advisor about charitable giving arrangements The Advise Us Fund® may describe.