I’m fairly new to the non-profit and fundraising world and therefore, have been spending a lot of my time reading as much as I can to expand my knowledge base. For those of you that haven’t met me, prior to joining United Way I taught kindergarten in a Title I, low-income school for three years. Every day, I saw firsthand the children and families that many of our United Way funded programs serve. I often said that in addition to bringing their backpacks to school every day, my students also brought experiences and adversity with them that no person should have to endure, much less a five year old.
That being said, when I saw Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs mentioned in this article by Claire Axelrad on NonProfitPRO it made me stop and think. Axelrad is discussing what motivates major donors to give and references Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when referencing these motivations. Axelrad suggests that being a philanthropist, at any level of giving, large or small, and identifying oneself with a specific cause is a part of forming identity, and reaching the peak of Maslow’s Hierarchy. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Maslow, he was an American psychologist that did the bulk of his work in the 1940s and is best known for his Hierarchy of Needs which explains human needs in a pyramid form. At the bottom of the pyramid, he places physiological needs – characterized as basic human needs: air, food, drink, shelter, etc. The idea is that without first meeting those basic needs, you cannot work your way up the pyramid to reach greatest fulfillment and the peak, which he defines as Self Actualization, or reaching your full potential.
As I read her article, I began to reflect both on why I give, and also on the work we do here at United Way. Much of the work we do in Education, Income, and Health is meant to lift up those in our local Richmond community that face adversity. We want them to have the opportunity to reach Maslow’s peak. We recognize, however, that reaching that peak isn’t possible without first having your basic needs met. As a teacher, I saw this day in and day out: I had a student that couldn’t stay awake during learning time because he didn’t have a bed and rarely got a good night’s sleep; another student couldn’t adjust to normal classroom routines and structure because she had never experienced stability in her five years of life moving from home to home and parent to parent; and others thought about lunch all morning because they knew that was the last meal they were guaranteed until breakfast at school the next day. I give to United Way’s Community Impact Fund because I want to help kids like my students and families in our community to no longer have to worry about Maslow’s bottom hierarchy, so that they can go on to rise and achieve more fulfilling lives. And while I’m on the giving end, what I see as the easy part, I am actually receiving too: I can reach toward Maslow’s peak by investing in making our community better.