On the horizon… the (not so distant) horizon

Poor are the most charitable.

The last few weeks I’ve been fundraising for Project Exploration with increasing intensity. Some of it is my regular fundraising work that happens in late spring: reaching out to people who have given in the past but haven’t given yet this year, following up with people who have asked to be kept abreast of our programs, reaching out to people to begin a conversation about next year. Some of the calls I’m making are more unusual – I’m going back to people who have already given to ask for special help; to ask for another donation to help us protect our summer programs.

We have a significant shortfall for the year and some funding we’ve been counting on from individuals and foundations evaporated late in the game. One program, our All Girls Expedition, has been hit hard and we’re being faced with possibly bringing fewer girls into the field. A real shame – especially because we know our summer field programs are the most transformative for our students of all the experiences we can offer them.

Sometimes I think about fundraising as being on a ship heading towards the horizon. The horizon is, loosely defined, the seeming intersection between the earth and the sky. It’s a good metaphor for me – simultaneously romantic and scientific. When we’re hard up for money the horizon is so far away; each time someone gives a gift to Project Exploration the horizon nears. But here’s the thing that I am consistently amazed by: people’s generosity, and most of all generosity of people who have the least, financially speaking anyways.

In the last few days I was given a number of checks and and some bills from friends and neighbors totalling nearly $500. These donations are from people who are nurses and teachers, city workers, college students, retirees, and even former Project Exploration students. They gave in honor of my daughter’s fifth birthday the generosity was overwhelming and extremely humbling. These gifts for Project Exploration made me feel like I was at the edge of the world.

As I started on my computer to read the news early this morning I found such generosity may be par for the course. It turns out folks in the lowest financial bracket are, on average, the most generous in their giving; they keep the horizon close. According to a recent article, “people in the bottom 20 percent of the population in terms of wealth tend to give more than their capacity to give, while those in the next two-fifths give at capacity.”

I’m not sure why those with the least give the most – it certainly isn’t because their lives are any less complicated or busy than people who are more well off. Perhaps it has to do with the intersection between earth and sky… and wanting to keep it close.

Later this morning I’ll head back into the office buyoed up to make new calls, to share good stories about students and their lives, to ask for help, and to try, through Project Exploration, to make it increasingly likely that students like ours will have a chance to experience the wonders of discovery first hand alongside scientists who are as excited as they are to explore the world. 

Today the horizon is near.

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