What is Philanthropy?

February 20, 2024

Philanthropy: it's a big word with an even bigger impact. But for many, the word conjures up thoughts of expensive galas, billionaires and giving large sums of money that seems completely unattainable for the average person.

We see philanthropy differently - and we're on a mission to help kids learn that no matter their age, background or ability, they're philanthropists who can change the world.

At the heart of philanthropy lies empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Through storytelling and discussions, we can nurture empathy and compassion in students. By encouraging them to walk in someone else’s shoes, we broaden their perspective and deepen their sense of empathy toward those in need. Philanthropy takes many forms, from small acts of kindness to large-scale initiatives. But regardless of its size or scope, the essence of philanthropy remains the same – a commitment to improving the well-being of others and the planet.

Philanthropy isn’t limited to the wealthy or the privileged. Oftentimes, when we think about philanthropy, we can be blinded by the massive need in the world around us – what impact can just one person make after all? We think that in order to make a difference, we need to be able to write a big check or have a big platform. But really, neither of those things are true. Philanthropy is something that anyone can participate in, regardless of their means or age. Whether you’re looking to make an impact globally or within the walls of your school, by providing students with the necessary tools to see the needs in the world around them, you’re creating an environment that makes giving back a habit. Something a student doesn’t even think twice about doing. You’re creating an environment that chips away little by little at the intimidation around the word philanthropy. You’re breaking down its walls and barriers and showing students that the difference they are making today, no matter the size, is changing the world.

Philanthropic efforts can create a lasting impact that ripples through communities and generations. It isn’t just about writing a check or making a donation. It’s about actively engaging with the issues and communities we seek to help. That’s why at OtterCares, we’ve crafted a program called Project Heart, designed for young people to find their inner philanthropist. We’re passionate about igniting a movement of philanthropy in young people. We like to say that philanthropy is when someone uses their 3Ts (time, talent, and treasure) to meet a need in their community and make a difference. It’s about listening to those most affected by the challenges we seek to solve, understanding their needs and aspirations, and working together to find solutions. Our hope is that Project Heart taps into every child’s innate desire to give while providing them with the tools and framework they need to be tomorrow’s changemakers today.

At its best, philanthropy is more than just charity – it’s a catalyst for social change, a driver of innovation, and a source of inspiration for others. It’s about creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their background or circumstances. And while the challenges we face may seem daunting, the power of philanthropy reminds us that together, we have the ability overcome them and build a better future for all.

Integrating philanthropy into your lesson plans not only enhances academic learning but also cultivates essential life skills. From organizing food drives, to collecting winter coats for kids, to making dog toys, to sewing blankets for NICU babies, to simply writing cards for residents at your local senior center, there are countless opportunities to engage students in hands-on philanthropic activities. By connecting classroom learning to real-world issues and needs, we inspire students to become agents of change.

How exactly can you go about doing that in your classroom?

Project Heart aims to inspire students to identify their personal passions, and helps them bridge those passions with a mission they can get behind. We’ve built lessons for K-12th grade students that can be implemented in your unique learning environment and meet your instructional needs. In its entirety, we provide educators and community partners with a deep dive into philanthropy with nine to ten lessons intended to help students better understand who they are and what they have to give. There is no maximum or minimum number of lessons that we expect you to complete. Our hope that is you take from our site what is helpful and useful, and weave Project Heart into the amazing things you’re already doing in your classroom. Leave the rest up to your students – you'll be amazed at what they come up with!

Don’t know what to start with?

  • Have your students try out our fun Project Heart quiz to help them identify how their skills and interests can come together to make change in their community
  • Check out our book list!
  • Utilize our microlearnings (for middle and high school) as conversation starters or writing prompts to get students in the mindset of giving

Whether you’re looking to start small with one of our Project Heart Beats, or want to work a full student-led impact project into your classroom curriculum using our lesson plans and student activity worksheets, we want to be there while you walk the journey of philanthropy with your students. Our site is packed full of stories and resources from teachers, videos of service project highlights, past projects examples and ideas to help fuel inspiration, and funds to help get you started.

Project Heart isn’t a one size fits all – and neither is philanthropy!

The best part of philanthropy is that how it comes to life is unique to each person. How we give may look different, but the impact we create together is what matters and what will change our world. So let's cast off the preconceived images of philanthropy, give students the tools and resources they need to write their own definitions and unleash their unique gifts to make our world better and brighter.