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The value of philanthropy and charitable work is not about money

My father’s best friend was a car dealer in my hometown. He once ran an ad in our local newspaper that he was selling cars at “cost.” My dad asked him how he could afford to do that, and he replied, straight-faced, “it’s because I buy them below cost.” He also told me once: “I know I have a $100 dog, because I traded two $50 dollar cats in on it.” He and my father would compete as fiercely on the golf course for a quarter a hole as they would trying to grab the check for lunch or dinner from one another.

Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” As a recovering banker, that quote has stuck with me for many decades, and I’ve known many who have focused on cost and price without thinking of value. I thought of the quote recently as I read about the now-fired manager of a casual dining chain who sent an email telling other managers to take advantage of the hardship caused by inflation and high gas prices to ask employees to work longer hours. In at least one of their restaurants, the entire crew walked out during lunch as the email was shared. Labor has a price, yes, but people have a value. Try running a restaurant without them.

I have also seen that way of thinking creep into philanthropy from time to time. Both donors and funders have asked about giving to those charities with the lowest overhead ratio. Yes, we want to be good stewards, but are we concerned so much about the price we overlook the value? Is our legacy in philanthropy that we gave to those who had the lowest fixed and variable costs, or those who helped most effectively? American author and poet Timothy Pina reminds us: “Philanthropy is not about money, it’s about feeling the pain of others and caring enough about their needs to help.”

My dad’s best friend was truly one of my favorite people growing up. He knew the price of a missed six-foot putt, but also the value of friendship. Plus, he was the only person I knew in my small hometown with a hundred-dollar dog.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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