Philanthropy, Wine, and Chocolate

Nancy David Kho

Last week the icebreaker for my Giving Circle meeting was “best parenting advice for parents of teens.” The group of us who have come together quarterly for ten years to socialize and support various nonprofits rolled our eyes and gave the kind of honest advice that you do among friends: “Make ‘This too shall pass’ your mantra.” “Disable the Wifi at 10 pm.” “Some family time should be non-negotiable.”

When we’d finished laughing and commiserating, a woman with us for the first time spoke. “When your kids are little, people are always willing to share what’s not going right,” she said. “But now that I have a teen, everyone always acts like everything is perfect. This conversation just made me feel so, so much better. Thank you.”

And I was reminded again how much the Giving Circle we started to benefit others ends up lifting up its members, every time we meet.

We started in a living room in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was still in the news and nearly every friend I had seemed shell-shocked by the scope of that disaster, and helpless in its face. A group of fifteen moms convened that first night – some from the kids’ elementary school, some from church, some old friends, all people whom I knew to be generous of spirit – and wrote checks that covered the cost of a portable blood pressure monitor at a health clinic serving Oakland’s foster youth.

There. Our modest donation wouldn’t fix Katrina’s damage, but it was something positive that we could fix in our little corner of the world.

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The feeling and the format were instant winners. We couldn’t wait for the next meeting.

A decade later, we have it down to a science. One person hosts, another presents. Given kids and work commitments, generally about half of the thirty members on our ever-morphing list show up. We spend a half hour clustered around the table that is always laden with too much chocolate and wine – kidding, that’s not a thing – and catching up in voices that approach jet engine volumes.

Then the presenter gets us settled in with an icebreaker. What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Where’s your dream vacation? What was your worst job ever?

The common threads are that we always learn something new about each other and that the presenter will have a struggle on her hands to bring this part of the discussion to a close. Oh, another rule: there’s a Giving Circle Cone of Silence.

But then we’re down to business: hearing about whichever nonprofit our friend has chosen for that month. Sometimes the presentation is by someone who works for the chosen organization; more often than not it’s just our friend telling us why she chose it, what it means to her, why the work they do is important to her. I’m as moved by those stories of connection as by the needs that exist for us to fill. We have helped single moms, terminally ill children, girls rescued from the sex trade, Ugandan orphans.

None of us is rich. And God knows we’re all busy. Even if it’s only four times a year, even if you know in advance, even with the wine and chocolate, it’s hard to make the meetings.

Yet, people make Giving Circle a priority. They bring friends. They may drop out due to other commitments, but they always come back, for more of what Giving Circle gives its members: a chance to do good, a connection to inspirational and understanding friends, the thrill of seeing the direct impact of even our modest giving.

And that’s even more intoxicating than the wine and chocolate.



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Philanthrophy, Wine, and Chocolate was written by Nancy Davis Kho exclusively for BonBon Break Media LLC.

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Nancy Davis Kho is a writer in Oakland whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Toast, The Rumpus, and numerous humor anthologies. In 2014, she was selected by BlogHer as a Voice of the Year in the Humor Category, and was the inaugural champion of Oakland’s Literary Death Match. She teaches in the Professional Writing program at UC Berkeley Extension, and writes about the years between being hip and breaking one at Midlife Mixtape.