Last December, NCFP’s staff ventured out to explore the Giving in America exhibit at the Smithsonian National American History Museum in Washington, D.C.  In case you haven’t had the chance to see it for yourself, this permanent exhibit looks at the historical role of philanthropy in shaping the United States and showcases four themes of American philanthropy:  

Who Gives? | Why Do We Give? | What Do We Give? | How Do We Give?

Displayed behind glass are artifacts that range from a sampling of the Giving Pledge letters to an alms box from the 1800s to the first bucket used during the 2014-2015 “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” which went viral on social media.

Among the relics, we were impressed to see the “Hat with Ostrich Feathers” [pictured top right], having once heard The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Karl Zinsmeister tell the story of how women activists launched a successful boycott against bird slaughtering in the late 1800s which later contributed to the founding of the National Audubon Society.

Similarly, after our staff watched "Rosenwald" — a documentary that chronicles how the longtime president of Sears became one of the nation’s leading philanthropists and civil rights activists who created more than 5,300 schools in the segregated South — an original Pleasant Hill School lunch tray [pictured bottom right] helped to bring Julius Rosenwald’s legacy to life.

Seeing the Giving in America exhibit was inspiring; there are so many untold stories that can inspire giving for generations to come. Still, it also left us with so many questions!

For instance, how do the curators choose which stories to tell in such limited space? How do we balance telling our stories in a way that is accessible to the public but still valuable to the field? What avenues are there for telling stories of resilience or overcoming challenges in philanthropic work?

For NCFP, these questions are particularly timely. As NCFP celebrates our 20th anniversary, we’re excited to tell the inspiring stories of the giving families we’ve encountered over the last twenty years. We’re taking some time to reflect on how these stories have shaped the field of family giving and the National Center.

In celebration of NCFP’s 20th Anniversary, you may have heard about NCFP’s partnership with The History Project. Think of it as an opportunity to create a digitized history project — your own interactive, curated, and dynamic timeline that could feature videos, audio interviews, photos, and other media. You can click here to learn more.

As we work to build our History Project timeline, we’ve been wondering:

Does your family have any relics related to your foundation’s history? Have you shared those relics and stories with your entire family? How can we [at NCFP] help make your foundation’s history come to life for all generations?

We’re all so fortunate to work in the philanthropic sector — a unique space that is fueled by the generosity and willingness to give of one’s time, talent, and treasure. Now is a great time to celebrate those rich histories more broadly — Let’s do it together!

What’s your story? Contact NCFP Program Manager Rachel Ogorek.