THE BENEFITS OF ALTRUISM
Emmett D. Carson
President and CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation
Emmett Carson's introduction to philanthropy came when the
snow fell on his boyhood neighborhood in Chicago and his father
gave him his marching orders: Shovel out the elderly folks
next door first. There were similar orders in the summer when
grass needed cutting.
Later Carson was the beneficiary of others' altruism when
he received a no-strings-attached $1,000 scholarship that
helped him meet miscellaneous expenses during his first year
at Morehouse College, which helped him launched his successful
career as a public policy scholar and foundation leader. It
was that gift which inspires his own gift each year of four
$1,000 scholarships to graduates of his old inner-city Chicago
high school, Emil G. Hirsch. Two scholarships go to the outstanding
students in math and civics, the other two go to the most
improved students in those same subjects.
"They were two subjects that I enjoyed most in high
school, and the scholarships are named after four teachers
who made a difference in my life," he explains. "I
wanted to create a dynamic that said we want to recognize
people on two different levels: Some are the best and just
get better. Others struggle a little bit and work very hard
way you get people to give is because they are passionate.
I don't start talking to them about tax deductions,
I talk about 'What do you care about? What's made
a difference in your life?'" And when do you
start giving? "You start. You don't wait until
you get to a certain place in life. You start to
do it, and you give whatever you can."
Among the accomplishments in his career, Carson cites his
early research disproving the stereotype that African Americans
did not have a tradition of giving and volunteering. To the
contrary, he demonstrated that they had a strong tradition
of giving traceable from African tribes through the Civil
Rights Movement. The latter, he says, was not funded by foundation
grants. "People had chicken dinners to raise money."
His work also aimed to educate organizations that make their
messages and programs appeal to African Americans, who are
more influential and affluent than they were in the past.
Organizations must understand, he says, that their survival
will increasingly depend on attracting these potential donors
to their cause.
"The thing that I take the most satisfaction in was
the research was the first of its kind on any ethnic group,"
Carson says. Other research followed on Chinese, Latinos,
and other Americans. Eventually, he says, people began to
realize that giving is "not just something that rich
white people do" but something all communities have done
Under Carson, The Minneapolis Foundation is working to build
trust with African Americans and others by sponsoring studies
and programs that address the priorities of those communities.
As a result, a growing number of people from those communities
are setting up charitable funds at the foundation. He is among
them with a fund named in honor of his parents.
"Philanthropy is always motivated by personal experience
and understanding," he says. Shoveling snow for his childhood
neighbors - without compensation - at first did not stir his
enthusiasm. "But I learned there was a responsibility
I had as a member of the community, that I had youth and energy
and they did not."
Anthony Morley and Ruth Anne Olson
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