More Than Money
Issue #10

Learning From Each Other

Table of Contents

“Happiest Birthday”

Last 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.

"On 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.

Valentine 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.

In 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.

Many 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."

Said 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 '91.

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