Barbara Harman, 69, is the founder and president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington and is executive director of the Harman Family Foundation. She splits her time between Washington and Boston.
Yeah, I’ve kind of heard that from people. [Laughs.] Have you got a better idea?
I love it. I think the name is a little stuffy. But when something catches on, as the catalogue seems to have caught on here, it’s hard to let go of the name. But I have to say it’s something we’re thinking about.
That would be awesome.
It’s a hard question. I can think of so many extraordinary charities doing amazing work here on education, on youth arts, on homelessness. I guess the thing that has struck me the most with all of the organizations that I give to is what a radical difference there is between the lives that most of us lead and the lives of some of the other people who live in this city, whose neighborhoods and whose circumstances really are unimaginable to most of us. I’ve been in communities where the average annual income is $9,100 a year. And then you see the work that these small nonprofits are doing to make these kids’ lives better, and it’s really a pretty extraordinary experience.
I will give you one example. There’s an organization in the catalogue called Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. The first time I went to visit Free Minds, I walked into this room, and there were a whole bunch of guys there, and I thought to myself, These look like pretty scary g uys. I sat down and talked to them, and their stories were so amazing. They were all people who had done really stupid things as teenagers. And we all know that lots of adolescents do really stupid things. They did some pretty bad, stupid things and landed themselves in the D.C. jail. And then they had this sort of extraordinary experience that Free Minds provides that brings these young people to read books. Many of them will tell you that it’s the first time they’ve ever read an entire book cover to cover. And the books just opened their minds in ways that they’d never been opened before. They know about their options, which they believe are extremely limited. They don’t see a future, and this program introducing them to books is the first time they’ve begun to think that there is a world out there different from the one in which they grew up.
Absolutely. It was very much a part of my growing up. It was very clear to all of us that it was his sense, and should be our sense, that a family in a position to give should be a giving family.
[Laughs.] I think it’s a really personal choice. I’m sure you’ve heard about the giving pledge. This is a pledge that Warren Buffettand others have signed where they are giving away the vast majority of their income.
Yeah, same here. Some people think tithing is the right way to approach this: 10 percent of your income. I don’t think that a lot of people give 10 percent of their income, and I guess I don’t really think there is a number. I think what’s important is to find the things that really resonate for you. Then I think the giving grows over time, and it becomes a different kind of engagement than just writing a check.
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