PARTNER PERSPECTIVE

On the other side of Philanthropy

Jamilia's Story

 

It has been almost four years since I experienced the unimaginable in my personal life. My husband had a massive heart attack and he did not survive. One moment, the sounds of laughter filled my home. The next, I was frantically administering cpr. Nothing in life prepares you for the moment you lose someone you love. Riding silently in the ambulance that day, I knew life would be very different.

 

Death evokes so many emotions. It is not surprising but terribly confusing to feel shock, anger, disbelief, pain, and great sadness all at one time. It is incomprehensible to me that someone who was so young and full of life could leave Earth without any warning. But he did.

 

For many years, I have enjoyed a challenging yet rewarding career in the nonprofit sector. As an undergraduate, I spent a semester learning grant writing and interning with a local battered women’s shelter. I interviewed staff members, read reports and wrote my first grant proposal. The shelter needed a new van for the women and children. From that day forward I was hooked. I learned everything that I could about nonprofits and quickly found my place as a fundraiser. I loved events, meeting new people, and fighting for causes that I cared for deeply. It was a perfect match.

 

Connecting donors with great causes is one of the perks of being a fundraiser. There is something magical about identifying a need for an organization and then working hard to identify someone who can help alleviate the problem. There have been countless times where I was the conduit to good. I possessed a strong sense of pride. Having raised money for scholarships, youth development and military families, I was fearless.

 

A blind spot is defined as “an area where a person’s view is obstructed”. I would soon learn that there was a different view for me to experience. I call this experience, the other side of philanthropy.

 

Philanthropy requires that someone is willing to give. This is inherently a position of power. As a conduit, I also felt a sense of power knowing that I was able to connect the dots and solve problems. What I had not considered is that philanthropy requires someone to be in a position of vulnerability. The day my husband died is the day I learned what it truly means to be vulnerable in a very public way.

 

As I made funeral arrangements and comforted our children ages 9 and 7, I began to see the power of love materialize. While comforting me, my friends and family also grappled with their own mortality. My community sprang into action and met needs I didn’t know that I had. Compassion and kindness presented itself in many ways. I was as overwhelmed with love as I was with grief.

Friends and family members traveled from all over the US and Germany to attend his service. Faces we hadn’t physically seen in years were very intentional about the ministry of presence. I was glad to see them.

 

My husband’s fraternity brothers performed their funeral ritual. I will always be grateful for this. It is my hope that my son, in one of the most painful moments of his life, will remember how these men represented all that his Dad loved.

 

Colleagues and friends donated generously to a scholarship fund established for the children. This completely blew me away.

 

My neighbor’s church adopted our family and provided meals for two months. I didn’t know we would be so hungry but we were! And on the days when I felt crushed by grief, these smiling faces lifted my soul and nourished our bodies.

 

Our little league family embraced us and offered rides to practice. They also understood when we didn’t always arrive to practice on time. There have been many other acts and for all of them I am humbled.

 

As I move forward with the next chapter of my life, I now have a greater sense of connectivity to human suffering. In my professional practice, I will apply my real life experience how life can change in an instant leaving you unable to care or provide for yourself physically or emotionally in everything that I do.

 

Special strength is required to be openly vulnerable and honest. To accept help goes against the independent American spirit. Philanthropy transforms lives and has certainly impacted mine in a way I never anticipated. The other side of philanthropy can be filled with uncertainty and despair until someone comes along with a compassionate heart and a willingness to solve our biggest problems with authenticity.

Jamilia B. Shipman is the CEO of Philanthropy Partners. For interviews or permission to publish, please contact her at jamilia@philanthropypartner.org or 703-867-2164.

Winter 2017

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