year, Phoebe Valentine died of lung cancer. She was one
of the most committed and inventive philanthropists I
knew. I thought
More than Money
readers might be
interested in this report on one of her creative experiments.
June 26th, 1988
Phoebe Valentine celebrated her 50th birthday by inviting
ten guests to a party at her house. No one brought presents.
It was Valentine who distributed the gifts: $5,000 to
each guest. The Birthday Project, as it became known,
was an experiment in creative philanthropy.
picked people she knew who were concerned about the world,
and who represented a diversity of backgrounds and issues
that mattered to them. They were each asked to allocate,
in the next four months, grants ranging from $500 on up
to tax-exempt organizations of their choice.
the end, a total of 30 grants were made, ranging in size
from $500 to $4,000. Over half were to organizations located
in or near the participant's communities. Phoebe's friends
expressed unanimous enthusiasm for the project. "I was
flattered, grateful, and honored to be a part of it,"
said one participant.
were impressed with the enormous need they encountered
through the process of interviewing agencies. Their $5,000
no longer seemed like a lot of money. One woman reflected:
"The project made me more aware that if you have access
to money, it's a responsibility
to not just horde or fritter it away. If you really take
giving seriously, as Phoebe obviously does, it takes a
tremendous amount of time,energy,
thought and research."
Valentine, "These ten people were able to multiply my
money and my abilities and break down the isolation I
sometimes feel being a philanthropist. The more
I have trusted myself, my own values, and my own creativity
the better I have gotten at funding and the more fun it
has been. I knew that for my fiftieth birthday I wanted
to do something that resonated with what was important
to me, and the Birthday Project did just that. It really
was a celebration."
Report adapted from two articles: one by Barbara Dundon
in Scudder's newsletter "The Socially Responsible Investor"
Fall '91, and another by Chela Blitt in the Women Donor's
Network's newsletter, "Wealth of Possibilities" Summer
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