Unless you are in the nonprofit profession, starting a philanthropic conversation is tough. Most people seldom bring up the topic of philanthropy in private or public discourse. One could surmise that it is either taboo or just awkward to know how to start a dialogue about giving. No matter what you call it, charity, giving, or philanthropy, the topic certainly is not in the mainstream of most discussions among friends or family members.

Changing the Course of the Dialogue

Perhaps many consider talking about issues and causes that pain the heart and prod open the checkbook as boasting, prying, or self-interest? And if so, how can we change the course of conversation to include meaningful discussions about charity, giving and philanthropy as it relates to who we are and what we do in our daily lives? Is there a way to start the philanthropic conversation without mentioning the word “philanthropy?” It’s a common word for a fundraising and development officer but it can be a put-off for the average donor who thinks philanthropist is synonymous with millionaire. When in fact nothing could be more from the truth, the origin of the word “philanthropy” means the “love of humankind.” So, if you give ten dollars or ten million dollars you can be a philanthropist.

Values are in the Cards

From my experiences with clients and donors at my Institute for Women and Wealth, I created a 16-card deck of Value Cards, that can help you start a philanthropic conversation. I believe values frame the story of who you are, what you believe, and how you make philanthropic decisions. The center of each card features a specific value-based word such as “Abundance, Gratitude, Love, and Courage.” The deck also includes a few blank cards where you may fill in your unique values, too. Many times, when I am facilitating a family meeting, I will distribute a set of cards to each family and invite them to spend time individually choosing three of the most significant values that pertain to their current lifestyle. Once the family members come back together, each person shares their thoughts and feelings about those values that are central to how they make decisions regarding the giving of time, talent, and money.

Witnessing Transformations

It is quite amazing to experience the transformation that takes place as conversations around diverse values often result in love, respect, and family unity where misunderstanding and miscommunication had previously harbored discord. Many times, it is an “aha” moment in which a person realizes that “Yes, I am a philanthropist, and I am proud to share my values to inspire others to join the conversation.”

For your complimentary deck of Value Cards, send an email to mm@margaret-may.com.

This post was originally published September 12, 2012 and has been updated for relevance.