The Unappreciated Philanthropy of Greek Life

 

Carl Turnley Philanthropy

The word “philanthropy” is, according to Google, derived from the Greek word “philanthropos,” meaning “man-loving.” Man-loving, in this sense, is the focus on feeling compassion and high regard of your fellow man; all of mankind as a whole is deserving of respect, regard, and, of course, assistance when needed. It only makes sense, then, that the connection between a word whose origins can be traced to Greece and college Greek life share such a close connection.

For many people, though, love of your fellow man isn’t what the first thing that comes to mind when they think about college fraternities.

 

So what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the phrase “Greek life?” What about “fraternities” or “sororities?” If you pictured wild parties, hazing rituals, red solo cups and togas made of bedsheets, chances are your view of fraternities and sororities are more governed by what you’ve seen in movies and heard about during your time in college. If, on the other hand, you pictured well-organized, philanthropic events, year-round fundraising and a strong sense of compassion and the willingness to help others, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

 

Depending on where you went to college and your level of involvement in Greek life, you may have a very different opinion of the entire scenario.  While many people who never pledged a fraternity or sorority who attended a larger schools like Arizona State or Penn State may know the groups best for their weekend antics, the foundation of a fraternity isn’t in the parties they throw, it’s in the philanthropy they engage in.

 

Every fraternity and sorority on just about every campus across America carefully and meticulously plans out a series of fundraising events that benefit a charity–whether it’s local or national. These charities and philanthropic causes become the backbone for the fraternity or sorority’s event planning and fundraising each year. In 2011 at the University of Michigan, the University’s Greek life helped to raise over $75,000 to donate to charities–in a single week.  

 

Perhaps the biggest and best in Greek life fundraising is the annual event THON, which started at Penn State University in 1973 as a dance marathon to benefit charity. Since its onset, THON has partnered with the Four Diamonds Fund, which supports pediatric cancer research. The partnership, along with increased coverage of the event and a rate of participation from students both in and outside of Greek life has increased its charitable reach to epic proportions, recently raising over $14 million dollars in 2014 and over $9 million in 2016.

 

It’s time to break the mold of thinking when it comes to Greek life and the “party” culture that surrounds it. Often, Greek like winds up making strong changes of lives in people all over the glove.

OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors Show Down on the Court, but Show Up for Community.

Athletes are pillars in their community. In the early days of American sport, before players received multi-million dollar contracts, endorsements, and TV Shows, it wasn’t terribly uncommon to see one of your heroes out on the town living life just like you. Since the 70’s, though, athletes (especially the best) have risen to a new mythic status. And even though some players may still be living in mansions outside of the cities, many of them have still found a way to give back.

Let’s take a look at the NBA. Millions of people are tuning in to what is one of the best conference finals the NBA has seen in years. In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are taking on defending champion Golden State. With top flight names going at it night after night, the winner of this series will most likely take on Cleveland in what will be another great NBA Finals matchup. While the on-court action is dominating discussion of these teams, their off the court contributions are just as noteworthy.

In OKC and San Francisco, these players and their clubs are giving back to the kids who adore them so much. In Oklahoma City,  Turkish player Enes Kanter was contacted by an Elementary school teacher (also of Turkish background) and came to the school to introduce the kids to a culture they may have been unfamiliar with. He read a popular Turkish children’s book, and hosted basketball-related activities in the gym. Kanter, the teacher noted, served as a role model for the kids. The influence of athletes is great indeed! Russell Westbrook also got involved with a local school; he also surprised some kids over the PA system with words of encouragement during the last stretch of testing. It’s difficult to quantify what these kinds of encounters can do for kids but you can’t deny there is something special about seeing their faces light up like that.

The team also went out to work on community service projects with the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma. Their contributions included painting murals, cleaning up gardens, and fixing up basketball courts. Players let their personalities and comedic sides shine— especially star forward Kevin Durant, who has been nominated as a finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assistance Award.

Up in San Francisco, the Warriors are also getting involved with the surrounding the community. Through their Makin’ Hoops program, the team sponsors the construction of basketball courts in underserved areas of the community— any kid knows how frustrating it is to play on a crumbling court! Through their Share Your Seats initiative, the Warriors donate what would be unused tickets to families that can go to the games.

But the Warriors’ outreach programs don’t just revolve around athletics. Through Scholars of Tomorrow, the organization promotes the importance of higher education and promotes a discussion that some students may not have at home. This past year, Jason Thompson and Assistant Coach Chris DeMarco hosted a “PTA” night, where they encouraged questions about college and professional development.

While there can only be one winner of the series, everyone wins when these local heroes step off of the court.

 

A Culture of Giving

I’ve written before about how philanthropic actions should come from within. Helping people feels great, and even if it didn’t, it’s still a wonderful way to connect with other people who may have a need you can provide.

Company’s also understand this, because some are beginning to change the attitude with which they approach philanthropy. For a time, companies would make donations because of the associated tax benefits. But in a 2014 article for Inc., Marla Tabaka examines the giving spirit at other companies, and makes the case for why it’s important to create a culture of philanthropy wherever you are.

One reason she gives, is that charitable action can bring employees together. Sometimes, we rub elbows with our coworkers and bosses in meetings. Or a new employee joins the company, but is a bit slow to catch on to the rest of the culture. Because everything in the office is centered on work, correcting these problems may not come easily. After all, who has time to repair relationships or explore new ideas when that big project is due by the end of the week?

A culture of giving can bring your employees closer together.

A culture of giving can bring your employees closer together.

Community service encourages employees to work side-by-side in an environment where deadlines and the hard and fast rules of office expectations don’t necessarily apply. You and your co-workers will bond and work together on an activity that everyone involved is passionate about.

But how do you make sure everyone is on board to begin with? Involve everyone from the jump. If you’re in a management position, don’t pick an organization or cause at random. Get critical feedback and suggestions from other employees so you can be assured that the projects you pursue and the difference you contribute to won’t feel like just another work day.

Sometimes you may feel you just don’t have the time to help create a culture of giving, but Tabaka encourages you to get creative. She provides an example from the company culture of Zinepak, a Brooklyn-based publishing company. In order to make time, they created a rotating position that is in charge of organizing activities and projects dedicated to the community outside of the workplace.

A Time for Giving

For many, the holidays present a great opportunity for community service and involvement. Probably the first thing that pops into mind is the ubiquitous “toy drive”. And while that’s a pretty worthy cause, there are plenty of other ways to contribute, too! The Huffington Post gives us plenty of suggestions for making the holidays special for a stranger. Check out a few below!

Visit a Senior

For you, the holidays may be a time when the entire family comes together for warm food and warmer laughter. But for some it’s the complete opposite. As people age, sometimes bonds that were once unthinkable begin to fade. Maybe a loved one was lost, or they’ve lost touch with their children. Humans are social creatures, and not having that kind of meaningful interaction can be devastating. Those of us not in that position can only imagine how much worse that feeling is when everyone around you is filled with a certain cheer that comes with seeing family and friends. HuffPost notes that half of seniors living in nursing homes receive no holiday visitors, so it’s not hard to see how much of an impact that kind of act of love can have.

 

Deliver a meal

Food is such a central part of the holiday season that some people look forward to the table than they do their family! But just because you’re enjoying a delicious spread doesn’t mean everyone else is, too. Hunger still runs rampant, so what better way to spread some cheer and goodwill by giving food to those who need it most? Meals on Wheels has a volunteer program that makes it that much easier to give.

 

Red Cross

Sometimes the best presents are truly priceless. Each year, the Red Cross helps needy people all over the world by delivering vaccinations or emergency family packages. There are even donations you can give to support workshops that connect veterans with their families.

Tommy Spaulding’s “It’s Not Just Who You Know”

Communication is the most important skill anyone working in the nonprofit sector can have. The funds you raise aren’t for you, they’re for a higher cause. It boils down to your team persuading potential donors to contribute to your cause. So it’s easy to see that, at the end of the day, all you have is your word.It's not just who you know

Many philanthropists, as I’ve noted before, treat everyone the same. By “same” I don’t mean “equal”. Rather, a potential donor or volunteer from one background receives the same information, attention, and communication as someone from a different background. We’re taught as children that each of us is unique, but we seem to lose sight of that as we age. You need to approach your potential game-changers as the individuals they are, not as a singular entity under one roof.

But this can be difficult. We’re conditioned to keeping work conversations in the office, and conversations of personal interest between our closest friends. Is this inherently a bad thing? No! But it is a bit jarring when someone from accounting is suddenly asked to contribute her time or money, when the only words you’ve spoken to her are about the weather and the new office space.

That’s why, I think you should read Tommy Spaulding’s best-seller It’s Not Just Who You Know. It’s simple, and doesn’t lose its message in self-aggrandizing pomp. The anecdotes are down to earth, and prove the power of a single conversation.

Spaulding writes at length about the different levels of interpersonal relationships, and the people we encounter at each one. At the lowest level are those with whom we just discuss news, sports and weather. At the top —the “Penthouse”— are our closest mentors, confidants, and loved ones, whom we serve with no expectation of reciprocity.

You can imagine which relationship is most useful to helping you achieve your goals. Spaulding helps us understand what makes penthouse relationships special, and why it’s possible to take someone we’ve recently met all the way to the top.

Of course, not everyone we meet will enter into penthouse relationship with us. Spaulding understands this, and helps the reader foster relationships at all points along the scale.

After reading it, you will be eager to listen to people and look for ways that you can selflessly help them. Whether they need help refining an idea or just want a shoulder to lean on, these relationships are what we, as humans crave. It’s Not Just Who You Know shows us how to make the most of them.