By Zoe Lawhorn
Women’s Fund of Smith County
I recently discovered a writer named Kahlil Gibran, who wrote a book called The Prophet, a collection of poetry inspired by the Bible. His poem “On Giving” lays out a beautiful, heart stirring argument for giving with a spirit of innocence, and the poem challenged me to look at myself and examine the current status of my own giving spirit.
He describes those who give with no thought of the virtue of their gift, the recognition they might receive, how much the gift costs them personally, or the impact of their giving on the recipient. He writes:
“They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes. He smiles upon the earth.” A giving spirit is like this – a beautiful force that changes the world, like the fragrance of a flower changes the air around it.
In his poem, Gibran beautifully articulates the spiritual impulses that lead many of us to give, and he defends giving freely – without restrictions, without expectations, without measured outcomes. “There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward,” he writes.
Giving a gift in this manner sounds simple enough; giving a gift to meet a need seems even simpler – for example: you are hungry, here is food.
For something that starts out so simply, however, giving can quickly become complicated when we apply certain values to the process. In many cases, these are values that we hold deeply, even subconsciously; they reflect who we are on a complex level that combines heart and mind, experience and aspiration.
As my work with the Women’s Fund of Smith County continues to inform my own perspective on giving, I realize that we have over 300 members who have equally complex and challenging giving views and values. How can we give in harmony together, knowing that we all approach each giving opportunity from a different point of view?
In order to remain unified, we work together to stay focused on our mission, to stay up to date on trends in Philanthropy and the nonprofit community, and to stay informed about the needs that are specific to Smith County. We work very hard to give each member her voice in the process, representing all our unique points of view and giving spirits.
There is a new approach to giving that many giving circles like ours are exploring, called “Trust-Based Giving.” In a nutshell, this project encourages givers to consider taking on some of the duties historically fulfilled by the recipients of their philanthropic gifts, in order to make the overall grants process easier and more effective for the nonprofits who receive funds. Behind this approach is a belief that by streamlining the grants process for nonprofits, givers allow them more time and resources to provide their much needed services in our communities.
The Women’s Fund is learning about this new approach – purposefully, and within the greater context of our own collective giving strategy – and we were informed by some of the ideas from “Trust-Based Giving” when we changed our annual grant process last year in response to Covid-19 and the impact it was having on the nonprofits here in Smith County. For example, we created an application that was less labor-intensive on the part of the applicant, in an effort to be sensitive to the greatly increased demands on services due to the pandemic. We were able to make impact gifts that met our nonprofits right at the point of need, right at a critical moment in time.
In this way, we were more responsive to the needs in our community and created a more effective way to address emerging needs in the midst of a crisis. As we move forward into the future, we remain committed first to our mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children in Smith County. When I think about the women with whom I share this circle, I am reminded of the type of giving described in Gibran’s poem. We share the joy found in giving; we share the love of community; and we share the commitment to our mission. Each and every precious member of our circle is one of those great women “who give with joy, and joy is their reward.”
Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 300 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a giving heart is welcome to join our organization. Please visit www.womensfundsc.org for information about membership and outreach.