A recent meeting of the nursery school PTA has led me to wonder about our collective understanding of philanthropy.
Here we are in a wealthy community in the suburbs of New York planning a fundraiser to benefit the nursery school. Money collected goes to things like new playground equipment and special events for the kids. The fundraiser inevitably involves parents--busy stay-at-home mothers and working ones too--going around begging friends, strangers and local businesses to donate money or items to sell (or auction off at Bingo night).
So the first thing one wonders is why anyone would donate money to a well-off nursery school. Don't get me wrong. I love my kids' school, but surely, better causes abound. Second, why aren't things like events for kids and playground equipment just built into the tuition. If they're part of the kids' educational experience, no one around here will blink at an extra hundred dollars per kid.
Amazingly, one of the mothers at the meeting suggested that the community around here just isn't very generous--compared with Manhattan--and getting them to give money is like pulling teeth. Another mother later said that people only give so much money at nursery school fundraisers in Manhattan because they want to curry influence with the director who will at some point have to write recommendations to get their children into another expensive private school. Since people move to Westchester because the public schools are good, this is not as much of an issue.
So it makes perfect sense to me why people don't want to pay $200 for a casino night. But I also wonder whether a PTA just has to find something to do. Whether they are around to build community and they need projects for that to happen. In which case, I wouldn't mind if they found a worthier cause than their own children.
And maybe that's really the issue here. Philanthropy is not giving for the betterment of one's own family.