Becoming a Micro-Philanthropist

 Do you ever wish you could do more to help extended family, neighbors, and acquaintances who are struggling?  Alice and I do.  Having enough to help others is one of our motivations for getting our own finances in order. 

But how do you start?  Who should you help?  What is the best way to go about it?  And how much money do you need to get started?  I recently heard a great story about how one man went about helping others in a modest but inspiring way that set a great example for me on how simple giving can be.

Junius Romney

Last weekend I attended the Cache Valley Story Telling Festival in Logan, Utah.  One of the storytellers was Clive Romney, although to call Clive a storyteller doesn’t do him justice.  Clive is an accomplished historian, master storyteller, and talented musician who combines history, story, and music in a wonderful and inspiring way.

At the festival Clive told a story about his own grandfather, Junius Romney.  Junius led an interesting and often difficult life.  His family fled the United States for Mexico to escape persecution due to polygamy when Junius was just a young boy.  The family prospered in Mexico and by the time Junius was 30 he was the leader of the Mormon saints in Mexico and a successful businessman. 

In 1912 the Mormons were forced to leave Mexico by Pancho Villa and his army during the Mexican Revolution.  Junius led 5,000 Mormons out of Mexico to Arizona with not much more than the clothes on their backs.  Junius lost everything and had to start over again from scratch.  After many years and a lot of hard work Junius became a successful insurance salesman and owner of a savings and loan.             

Clive didn’t know his grandfather well but from his experience Clive found him “authoritarian, distant, and inflexible.”  This was in contrast to his grandmother, who Clive describes as “delicate, gentle, and soft-spoken. 

After his grandfather’s death Clive started to write a song about Junius for a family reunion.  The song painted Junius in a mostly negative light, making fun of his controlling personality.  Clive thought the song was funny, and liked what he had written, but he was unable to finish it.  He finally decided he might be missing something so he did some more research, including interviewing Junius’ last surviving child. 

Clive’s great uncle confirmed Junius’ stubbornness and controlling nature but introduced Clive to a side of his grandfather he hadn’t known.  As you might expect Junius was the sole keeper of the family’s finances.  Upon his death the family looked through his financial records in an effort to put his estate in order.  They noticed numerous checks, of small to moderate amounts, written to individuals with no explanation as to their purpose.    

Curious, and being acquainted with some of the recipients of the checks, the family approached them and asked what the money was for.  Each told a story about a time when they were struggling and Junius, seeing their need, had taken it upon himself to help.  Junius never told anyone what he was doing and his family was unaware.  This man, who Clive saw as cold and uncaring, was seen by the community as someone always ready and willing to help in time of need.  Although he kept it well-hidden under his prickly personality his role in the community was similar to George Baily’s in It’s a Wonderful Life.    

Clive gave a name to the kind of giving his grandfather did.  He called him a micro-philanthropist.  Needless to say Clive had to go back to the studio and rewrite his song.  The finished song is a beautiful tribute to both his Grandpa and Grandma Romney called The Left and Right Hands of Love.  Here are the words to the chorus:


So through a Genesis, an Exodus, and many Due-to-Romenys

They worked to build the kingdom of their God

Each working in the way that felt most natural

Yet so different that it struck me as odd

But time went by and I began to see

Their two ways of approaching it

Dad’s iron hand and mother’s velvet glove

Were not the two extremes I once had thought they were

They’re just the left and the right hands of love 


You can listen to the song on Clive’s website at  The song is about two-thirds of the way down the page.  To listen click the play button just above the song’s title.

What is a Micro-Philanthropist?

I love the term micro-philanthropist and what it represents.  Philanthropists are wealthy.  Micro philanthropists are ordinary people with limited means but the desire to help.  Philanthropists give large amounts of money to grand causes.  Micro-philanthropists give small amounts of money to individuals and families. 

Philanthropist’s gifts are public.  They have hospitals and university buildings named after them and their gifts are talked about on the news.  Micro-philanthropists go about quietly identifying needs and doing what they can to help.  Being a philanthropist is beyond the reach of most people but being a micro-philanthropist is something anyone can aspire to.  And the work performed by micro-philanthropists is every bit as important as that performed by philanthropists.             

Do you know any micro-philanthropists?  I am aware of a couple of them and I am sure there are many others working anonymously in our mists.  Most are not rich but they have giving natures and always seem to have both the resources and desire to help in time of need.  I think a strong case can be made that at least part of our giving budget should be reserved for helping those closest to us.  Giving to great causes in far-away places is important but so is giving hope and love to those in your community who are struggling. 

Becoming a micro-philanthropist is not difficult.  All it takes is a small but regular commitment of money (make it part of your budget), an eye that notices need, and a heart willing to help.  I am grateful for Junius Romney’s example of giving small amounts of money to friends and neighbors in times of need and for Clive Romney’s wonderful ability to share his story in a beautiful and inspiring way.  The story has motivated me to become a micro-philanthropist in training.  If you are able, please join me?

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