The Third Act

The Third Act

 Youth has the great advantage of energy, adventure, and exploration (personal and geographic). In youth, most of us in Canada are introduced to the idea of compassion and giving (time or treasure). We often develop our giving in our under-30-years through “consumptive” philanthropy. We play hockey or attend dance class and we learn that in order to travel, pay for costumes and/or compete, we need to fundraise. Or we are asked to run, walk, or bike for a cause: we get to do the things we love while others benefit.

In the busy years of mid-career, and possibly the raising of family, we are also engaging in consumptive philanthropy but our repertoire of other giving expands. Giving at this stage is often motivated by the experience of friends and family. Grandfather was diagnosed with a heart condition, the neighbours’ sister’s house burnt down, or the local community hall needed a new roof. At this stage, we give generously to those who need us; we are reflexive and quick to respond.

Following the First Act (under 30 years), and the Second Act (30 to 60 years), the Third Act (60 years plus) is marked by defining questions: how well have I lived my life? What is my personal legacy? What will my children and grandchildren need? UK writer Richard Radcliffe refers to this as “finishing life well”, “having wisdom in decision making” and being motivated by “completion of the things we set out to do” or as I like to say: bucket-list fullfilment.

In the Third Act, we tend to make more informed donor decisions because we have time to do the research. We investigate the impact of our gifts, develop an understanding of administration costs and organizational return on the investment, or simply, what it takes to raise a dollar. In a sense, we become “investors” in the social fabric of our communities. Recently, statistics have shown Third Act donors are reducing the number of charities gifted, but increasing the size of gifts. This could be the result of the desire to make a significant difference or leave a legacy – it could just be donors are tired of all those requests for funds!

More frequently, Third Act gifts are coming to charities through a gift of stock or a bequest in a will. While many gifts left in a will are large, they certainly don’t have to be. When considering a gift to Valley Regional Hospital, we encourage potential donors to consider needs for children and grandchildren, and a small, more manageable gift or small percentage of the estate to the Foundation. At Valley Regional Hospital Foundation we can create positive impact for patients with as little as $30 – in one case there was a need for diffused lighting in the palliative care rooms, easily accomplished at $30 per room. Another gift of $200 allowed the Foundation to purchase another cot for family members who stay with their loved one overnight at hospital. Yet another example is a chair for $1,000 that allows individuals with no spinal or musculature strength to sit up. It allows them to eat upright and to be moved on wheels around the hospital and outside, to get fresh air. Recently we had a letter from a family member telling us of the difference the chair made in the positive hospital experience and recovery of their father. That is impact!

Third Act donors have become more discerning, more engaged, and they want the choice to make decisions they feel have impact.

I invite you to explore the impact of your Third Act.

Folks who facilitate learning

One of my earlies memories of giving is my mother volunteering at bingo on behalf of a community organization. I also have vivid memories of going on shopping trips with some of our community’s most joyous citizens, folks who are developmentally disabled (or abled in other ways). We bowled with them and did projects with them at the Sunshine Centre.

I felt lucky to be included in these activities throughout the rest of my childhood and I found myself developing friendships with many of these folks. This experience has been more of a benefit to me than them, I am sure, as these relationships have facilitated learning about unconditional love, pure joy, and being in a world somewhat isolated by social or cultural imperatives, which is how they lived from day to day. These experiences imprinted on me so strongly that I knew I had to be in a position to help people.

For most of my adult life I have worked in the non-profit sector. While that is not my legacy, what I deem most significant, are the extra moments I have come in contact with someone who was truly grateful for something I personally did to assist them or enhance their experience in the world.

You’ve heard these moments referred to as “simple acts of kindness”. I have always tried to take that a step further. I want to act in a way that creates positive change in a sustainable way. I subscribe to the “teach a man to fish. . .” theory. And sometimes, enacting the theory is more complicated than it seems. It is amazing how many barriers exist in the world. . . maybe there is no way to find a clean fishing hole, or the pole you provide keeps getting stolen. You get my drift.

I guess I really find joy in being a “barrier-buster”.  I used to tell my children things like “there is no problem too great that can’t be solved”. Ah, the good old days of simplified beliefs. These days, I tackle the easier barriers and the others I leave to a higher power, while always remembering the joy and unconditional love extended and shared by those who are “barrier-busters” by simply being.

Multi-generational values

Imagine a time when your grandparents, parents and yourself are having disagreements about money. OK, that may be imaginable. . .

Now imagine you, your parents and dear grandparents disagreeing on which organizations you will support through a family Foundation. Believe it or not, it is happening. With the transfer of wealth being the most significant in the history of mankind, many more families are creating their own Foundations. That often means the grandparents started it, the parents serve on the Board, and now the young adults are getting involved.

The reality is individuals within families have different interests.  If a family Foundation has traditionally supported the work of alma-matter universities, hospitals and animal shelters, the next generation may not be interested or inspired. Perhaps the interests of the younger family members are putting an end to open-pen fish farming or building schools in developing countries.

Differences of opinion on where family funds are spent can be better understood when the various individuals are able to identify their core values. It is easier, once identified, to see where there is alignment in values, and how those core values help to define philanthropic decisions.

Family members may be surprised to see that the values overlap, but that each person applies them in a different way. Three generations bring their generational lens to the table, and when a thoughtful discussion ensues, the outcome may be shifting collective philanthropic decisions.

This is true as well for generational gifts at Valley Regional Hospital Foundation. Often we see families whose grandparents, parents and adult children are donors. Recently, we had a very thoughtful gift from a four year-old who decided to collect money on his birthday to make a donation. These types of gifts don’t come from family Foundations, but they do come from a sharing of values.

Parents of young children do often teach of giving, encouraging children to put 10% into the giving jar when they receive their allowance, as well as planning for short, medium and long-term age appropriate goals with the balance. When the giving jar builds equity, a family discussion follows to determine where the funds may have a positive impact in the community. Building such a giving culture within the family is not only for the wealthy. Conversations around giving, regardless of the amount, are important values-sharing and learning opportunities throughout life.

Likewise, charitable legacy gifts made through a will or insurance are decisions that may or may not impact multi-generations. Thoughtful discussion of legacy wishes with grown family members by expressing the values that underlie that decision has the potential to reduce tensions, misunderstanding and potential disagreements in the future. From family Foundations to family legacy gifts, the greatest gift is in understanding multi-generational values.

My Philanthropic Quilt

Tragedy has a way of melding with the sweetness of life to redefine and empower us to be better humans, and to expand our spiritual center. Like a lovingly constructed quilt, pieced together from materials no longer fit for their intended use, a greater creation is brought into being. Using the materials of old shirts, curtains, dresses and baby blankets, these once incongruous pieces are brought together to warm bodies and hearts as they are passed along from neighbor to neighbor, family member to family member, through the generations.

At 16 years old my mother lived through the tragic event of losing all of her family possessions in a house fire (really a farm fire – everything burnt to the ground). Immediately, the rural farming community in which she had lived since birth rallied to support her family in finding them a place to live, clothing, food, and many of the household necessities required for daily living. The home that she became so grateful to move into after the fire was lovingly described a “three room shack with outdoor plumbing”.

Her parents, who were in their late 50’s at the time, were of the mindset that they would just begin again. Grandmother began making new quits for the beds, and many of  the neighbour women pitched in with old pieces of material and their time, to comfort my mother’s family.

In one tragic experience, my mother became a beneficiary, and at the same time, the incident left an imprint that developed into serial reciprocity. After my mother grew, married and had children of her own, her mindful nature of the needs of others provided a learning framework for me.

Looking back through the patchwork quilt of my childhood, several of my mothers’ charitable and philanthropic endeavours come to mind. Through these memories I find inspiration. These experiences have enriched my world, and the experiences of others, whose lives I have been given the opportunity to weave into my philanthropic quilt.

My friend Anthony

I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Anthony today. Anthony was a brilliant Co-op student when I worked at a small University. Although still in his undergrad, Anthony was repeatedly asked to partner with another major University on research projects. He was already published by the time he was in his third year. In addition to his brilliance, Anthony had a refreshing view of the world, his perspective was always unique and very often challenged the status quo. I found that intriguing.

I was fortunate to get to know Anthony a little better after I moved from the Co-op Department to the Foundation office. No longer my student, we would meet at lunch or just in passing, and find ourselves deep in conversation about the universe, thermos-dynamics, nano-particles, etc. As I got to know Anthony better I came to realise that his life was very unstable. He professed to have sleeping issues, trouble concentrating, broken relationships with family members and various other challenges for which he self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana.

It was his sister who told me Anthony had untreated schizophrenia. He had been on medication, but went off and on, as many people will this illness do. I had some previous understanding of the illness, which was helpful. What I didn’t know was Anthony suffered from Anosognosia. Anosognosia, first named by a neurologist in 1914, “is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person with some disability seems unaware of its existence.”

Can you imagine living with a chronic disease and not knowing it, or in fact, being in complete denial of it? That was the life Anthony led, a life that is led by a large portion of the 1 in 100 people who suffer from schizophrenia, a chronic neurological illness. Fortunately, this is not true for all those diagnosed. Many people who have the illness are treated with medication, cognitive therapy and other supportive programs, and live fulfilling lives. This was not Anthony’s story.

Anthony’s untreated illness caused him to take his own life. It was a very sad day for all of us, in addition to the research community. His light shone brightly for a very short time.

Research is a very important part of our lives, even though we are not aware of the daily impact on the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, cars we drive and the medical care we receive. It is research, combined with education, which will eventually end the stigma of mental illness, as it has done for AIDS and Cancer. It is research that will unravel the complex neurological disorder called schizophrenia.

I am very proud to have been involved in research projects, either as a participant, a researcher or a funder of research. I am pleased Valley Regional Hospital Foundation is funding research projects which impact the determinants to health thus reducing the strain on an already stressed medical system. Next time you visit the hospital, give a thought of gratitude for those brilliant researchers (who may live with their own medical challenges) whose work positively impacts our lives every single day.