Philanthropy: It’s More than Writing Checks

Philanthropy: It’s More than Writing Checks

It’s possible to engage in philanthropy without having deep pockets.

When you think of philanthropy, what comes to mind? Writing a check? A name on a building?

Most people think philanthropy is off the table for them because it requires money they need for themselves. However, philanthropy is more complex than check-writing. Philanthropy is promoting the welfare of others, which typically includes generous donations of money but can also involve donated time or resources to charitable causes or organizations. It encompasses activities to improve the well-being of individuals, communities, or society.

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The myth that a philanthropist needs to be a check-writer is just that—a myth. Peter Samuelson is an example of how a person can become a life-changing philanthropist without writing checks. He doesn’t simply donate his money; he donates his time and resources to create foundations for causes he believes in.

Peter Samuelson

Source: courtesy of Peter Samuelson

Samuelson is a TV and film producer turned philanthropist born in the United Kingdom and now residing in Los Angeles, California. Challenges marked Samuelson’s early career. His master’s degree in medieval English Literature from Cambridge University didn’t immediately translate into job opportunities. However, a lucky chance in film production led him to Los Angeles in the 1980s, where he gradually rose to prominence as a producer, with over 27 films to his credit.

Samuelson’s realization that the producer’s skill set mirrors that of an entrepreneur sparked a new chapter in his life. He saw philanthropy as an avenue to apply his boldness and innovation to solve societal challenges. He didn’t want to donate his money. He wanted to donate his time and resources to make change happen for seriously ill children. Money wouldn’t change the lives of the children; experiences would. And Samuelson knew just how to “produce” a fantastic life experience for children and their families while terminally ill. In 1984, he co-founded the Starlight Foundation, addressing the emotional needs of seriously ill children and their families through aid programs across several countries.

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Beyond traditional philanthropy, Sanuelson focused on systemic issues. He noticed the educational gaps for foster children, leading him to pioneer programs that provided stability, role models, and community support for them. The efforts expanded into a network of academies in the U.S. and U.K. offering comprehensive education and life skills development to underserved youth.

Peter Samuelson’s philanthropic journey now includes six nonprofits he’s founded, all of which are creating change for individuals, families, and communities. This is philanthropy. Philanthropy in midlife offers a unique opportunity for personal fulfillment, social contribution, and leaving a lasting legacy of positive change.

Engaging in philanthropy during midlife can be profoundly impactful for several reasons:

  1. Sense of Purpose: By engaging in meaningful actions that contribute to the greater good of others, we can see that we matter and that our actions matter.

  2. Legacy Building: Philanthropy allows us to leave a positive mark on the world that aligns with our values and beliefs. A personal impact for us is a legacy—knowing that our values and beliefs will continue beyond us.

  3. Social Impact: We can address societal issues and contribute to positive change, giving us agency and empowerment.

  4. Personal Growth: We can learn more about ourselves, our strengths, and opportunities to learn about diverse issues, leadership, and advocacy skills.

  5. Community Connection: Connections within communities promote a sense of belonging and camaraderie by engaging with others.

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Most of us can engage in philanthropy using our natural skill sets just as Samuelson did, to create the change we’d like to see in others or the world. We don’t need deep pockets to do it. We need the desire and the knowledge to make change. Doing so leaves a profound legacy for ourselves and empowerment and education for others. We all have the opportunity to impact the world around us, and philanthropy is more accessible than many of us think!

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