The $25 Question

You’ve got some spare cash or one hour of your time to give. How can you make the most profound impact on our civic life?

Here’s a holiday quandary: You’d like to give some money and time to charity, but you want to make sure it will be well spent—in other words, that it will really make a difference in someone’s life.

I understand where you’re coming from. I read detailed grant proposals every day and pride myself in being of sound mind first and compassion second. It has to be this way, because I have the honor of giving someone else’s money away. Specifically, I give Kirk Kerkorian’s money away for the Dream Fund. He did not inherit it; he earned it. Therefore, giving it away should be as serious and sound as a business transaction. Mind and heart should intersect in philanthropy—where they cross is the question. I believe in high-impact giving, the kind that gives the community a lasting return on our investment.

Let’s say you want to give $25 or one hour of your time. Believe me, this is a significant investment. Your $25 is just as important as a million. It is part of a community-wide virtuous cycle that in the end powers philanthropy at the neighborhood level.

But where is the most efficient place to start this virtuous cycle? Where can my gift of time or money not only help people in the present, but also fuel the future?

Where would I put my $25?

How about an obscure nonprofit—the neighborhood public school?

This is the place where a community creates its image, where children can change the trajectory of their lives. At least that’s the way it ought to be. But there’s no guarantee that a child has the same opportunity as the kids at the public school across town. Each school in this massive school district has its own strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of state standards, approaches and effectiveness vary—and they always will. It all comes down to the leadership, the teacher and the surrounding community.

So, what can we as a community do?

Fire a teacher? … Not likely! Hire a talented superintendent? … Done!

The real key, though, is for schools and their communities to engage one another. Engagement can bring stunning transformations in a school. But it takes your time and investment.

Taking the first steps toward this engagement can be as simple as calling the school’s office and asking what it needs.

Your $25 may be used to purchase library books, supplies, paper or to help fund a tutoring program. I assure you, the need is endless and I always take the lead of the school’s principal. Principals feel the pulse of the school—they know what makes a difference, and they’re not afraid to ask for it.

If calling your neighborhood school or dropping in is a bit uncomfortable, I suggest trying

This site will let you see projects your teachers have created, supplies they need or a major school-wide initiative in action. You just may find that your $25 has completed—“tipped”—the entire request. If you are lucky enough to be the final “tip,” you will receive photos of the gift in action and thank-you letters from the class. So there’s plenty you can do with $25 for your neighborhood school—what about that hour of time? Here the needs are just as diverse: You may read to a kindergartner, help in the library, photocopy, file or simply tidy up. It’s not glamorous, but keeping teachers in the classroom where they need to be is the most important gift you could give.

This holiday season, the Valley abounds with philanthropic opportunities, each of them worthy and rewarding. But after years in the giving business, I’ve found that there are few charitable acts with a more lasting impact than simply taking care of your neighborhood school. It’s not a trendy idea—but with enough people giving it a try, it can transform a city. And don’t be surprised if you wind up feeling like you’re the one who got the gift.