Skip to Navigation Skip to Content
Back to Impact Stories

Compassion and Action: Values and Beliefs as Guides to Philanthropy

2021 AM photo for CC v2

On Thursday, December 5th fundholders and friends of the Community Foundation gathered in Putney to discuss faith, spirituality, and philanthropy. The event, the last for 2019 in our Community Conversation Series, was put together because our fundholders tell us that their beliefs and values are powerful motivators to why they give and the particular causes they support. That isn’t surprising; studies show that people who say faith or spirituality are important to them volunteer more, give more, and give more often, to both religious and secular causes.

We welcomed an esteemed panel:

  • Rabbi Michael Cohen, rabbi emeritus of the Israel Congregation of Manchester, founding faculty member of The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and faculty at Bennington College
  • Reverend Doctor Lise Sparrow, pastor of the Guilford Community Church, United Church of Christ, and graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and Hartford Seminary
  • Alisa Del Tufo, MDiv, founder of Sanctuary for Families and Threshold Collaborative and Ashoka Fellow
  • Cheryl Wilfong co-founder of Vermont Insight Meditation Center and author of the award-winning book and blog The Meditative Gardener

The panelists spoke with passion, insight, and good humor about their faith and spiritual practices, personal experiences, and action. They started with a discussion of how concepts of charity, tzedakah, and daana are shared across spiritual practices, yet there are differences in what they mean. Rabbi Cohen spoke of how tzedakah, though often used synonymously with charity, means “justice” and is considered a moral obligation to do what is right and just, including not only giving but helping people to become self-sufficient. Pastor Sparrow spoke of charity as a virtue that unites individuals and connects communities through compassion and shared understanding. Cheryl Wilfong noted that philanthropy derives from the Greek “phil” meaning love and “anthrpos” meaning “humankind,” and which has strong parallels to the Buddhism teaching to cultivate generosity as part of the expression of one’s humanity.

The panelists spoke about the importance of listening with empathy and compassion to the lived experience of others. By hearing the challenges, trauma, and successes of others, we can make grants that are more powerfully aligned to the needs and preferences of those we are trying to help. It also builds deeper ties across local communities, lifting up voices that are too often left out. Alisa Del Tufo spoke of her work in gathering oral histories of survivors of domestic violence and other traumas. When survivors share their stories it gives them control over how their story is told, gives voice to what they believe are the solutions to the challenges they have faced, and is healing and empowering. All the panelists underscored the importance of providing people with paths to self-sufficiency, and offering support in a way that maintains a person’s dignity.

A powerful theme emerged from the conversation: the shared sense of responsibility across faiths and spiritual communities to reach beyond their congregations, listen with compassion to the lives of others, then take action and give generously to build communities where people can live healthy lives with dignity, justice, and access to opportunities.

Participants were encouraged to continue the conversation and reflection that we started at the event with their family, friends, or their philanthropic advisor at the Community Foundation to consider how it might influence their philanthropy. We sent attendees home with a list of more than a dozen prompts to foster thoughts and conversation. We offer you a handful of those below.

For more information about our Community Conversation Series and a listing of events planned for 2020, please click here to email us.

Prompts to guide an exploration of your beliefs, values, and giving:

  1. Who or what influenced your belief that giving is important?
  2. How do your values, faith, or spiritual practices inform your giving?
  3. What is the most meaningful gift you have made?
  4. What personal or historical events have influenced your giving?
  5. How would you describe your family’s traditions around giving?  Are you engaging other family members or the next generation in giving?
  6. Maimonides proposes that the highest level of giving is to help a person towards self-sufficiency and to no longer need to be the recipient of charity.  Does this concept have personal meaning for you?  Does it influence that way you give?

If you would like to continue this exploration with the guidance of one of our philanthropic advisors, please contact Jane Kimble at or 802-388-3355 ext. 286.