Guest Post – Philanthropy and what you can do


I wrote the other day about what we could do as individuals to help those affected by the housing crisis, and a number of you responded very kindly which is nice of you.  I am always conscious when I am writing that I write about what has happened to me or those close to me.  That is because I write about what I know is true, what works and what doesn’t work for myself and those I know.  In the current jargon (which I hate) it is authentic. So those of you who hate this subjective way of writing, I am sorry – just don’t bother reading it.

I mentioned my personal approach to philanthropy when you don’t have much yourself and have to be careful to give where it can make the most difference.  And it is based on the philosophy that our communities should be the first port of call for help, then the community groups, and then the government.  Early intervention can make a huge difference.  So I will give some personal examples and suggest that those of you who do not think the government should be the first port of call, think about what you can do to make a difference at an individual level.  

Many years ago a family member was having matrimonial problems but as their budget was extremely tight, and her partner controlled the money, and they lived in the country she couldn’t run away.  I put some money in a savings account for her to use if she needed to.  It was a minimal amount – a bus fare for her and the kids and a week’s accommodation.  She never used it, and gave it back to me years later.  They are still happily married, and she puts that down to the fact she could escape if she wanted to – and the choice was hers.

In the years of Ruth Richardson’s mother of all budgets I was teaching long term unemployed.  They had their benefits slashed without warning.  I did two things.  First I took my toaster, bread, margarine and marmalade to work to make sure everyone had breakfast.  And I decided that I did not want to send my students to the foodbank as it was just too demeaning, so I would have my own food parcels.  I was just on a wage so money was tight.  But I was a member of several organisations who held their meetings at my place.  I asked the members to bring something for my parcels to each meeting.  So I could discretely help individuals.  I have to mention my boss did not approve of all this so I stopped telling him.

Help does not always have to be totally utilitarian.  While my food parcels were pretty basic – baked beans, pasta, tomato sauce, loo paper etc, I always tried to have at least one luxury item –  a bar of chocolate, chocolate biscuits or similar.  Poverty is so soul destroying and something nice can lift the spirits far beyond the financial worth.

I have had several wonderful gifts myself.  Once when I was totally destitute and had asked a Government department for help, only to be sent to another office and I was in tears, a woman ran down the street and thrust $10 in my hand – worth about $50 today.  She was pushing a pram and said she had been in the same position as me, but had come through it.  Real generosity of spirit as well as practical.

And more recently when I came out of hospital after a heart attack I found my wonderful neighbours had cleaned out my fridge and restocked it with food, and also dropped around whole meals for a few days.

True philanthropy is recognising a need and doing your best to provide appropriate help.  Opening your eyes and ears to the needs of those around you can be difficult, as can providing appropriate support without being patronising.  But it can save lives directly.

If we say it is not the Government’s role, then we have to be prepared to do our bit.  Because we are it.

Frances Denz MNZM

Frances has been instrumental in helping entrrpeneurs establish more than 4000 businesses since 1986. She is an authority on business start-ups and regional economic development and is a keynote speaker at conferences internationally. Frances is the co-founder of Stellaris Ltd and specialises in the small business and government sectors.
In 2013 Frances was honoured by the Queen with Membership of the Order of New Zealand (MNZM) for services to business.

As a Maori woman of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Tainui descent, Frances has worked with many Maori organisations to establish expertise in self-employment. Frances has special interests in the health and horticulture industries. 
She was  the founding chair of the Womens Loan Fund.

Frances is the author of Hope and Rehabilitation, Able to do Business and Women at the Top. She is passionate about encouraging small businesses to establish good governance and management in order to develop into very successful businesses.

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