Past to present: History of philanthropy inspires contemporary giving

By Katharine Klein
An close up of a section of Giving in America. The ALS ice bucket is evident.

I caught up with collections manager Katharine Klein as she worked on rotating objects in the museum's Giving in America exhibit, to learn more about her work—and about how working on the exhibit has inspired her. As the collections manager for Giving in America and head of the museum's participation in the Combined Federal Campaign, an annual workplace charity, Klein has distinct opportunities to draw connections between historic and contemporary giving.

As collections manager for Giving in America, what do you do?

I have the honor of handling and caring for artifacts representing not only significant individuals but also organizations and events that have had a lasting impact today.
As the collections manager for Giving in America, I work with curator Dr. Amanda Moniz and the talented exhibition team on developing the object list, researching and recording the artifacts' stats in our database, and tracking the artifacts as they move around the museum (going to our colleagues in Preservation Services, Photography, and Mounting) until we finally install them.
Katharine Klein, a young white woman wearing a pink scarf, sits at a table with an exhibit behind her.
Katharine Klein sits in the exhibit FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000. Photo courtesy of Klein. 
I also work with Preservation Services to make sure that the selected objects are stable for display, and with the designer and mount maker to ensure we can mount the objects per the design. Every now and then I am also the graphics manager, so I acquire the image files and rights to display the illustrations in the exhibit (and sometimes in websites and publications).
Can you give me an example of how the objects in Giving in America inspire you?
I find myself connected to just about every object.
I tend to donate to a number of charities that affect me personally or affect a loved one. The marathon bib for the Marine Corps Marathon always reminds me of the many times I've sweat for a charity, either at a 5K or in spin class.
A white tee shirt with sponsor information on the back. That is covered with a paper slip with the number "37861" on it--identification for a member of the race.
A T-shirt from a participant in Race for the Cure
The smart phone is another great object. I donate via text every time there is a natural disaster.
A flip phone, which opens to reveal a keyboard the length of the and a screen the length of the phone. Some wear is evident. It is clear that the phone has been dropped--it has those tell-tale scratches.
This LG ENV mobile phone was used in the "Text to Haiti" campaign.

The objects remind me to live each day with a purpose, and that even the smallest gifts—whether they be financial or time—can have the biggest impact in the community around me. I would love to say that I started a philanthropic project like some of the people in the exhibit, but I know I can still make a difference in other ways.

Do you have one object that really speaks to you in particular?

The ALS bucket is really cool. I remember people tagging me to do that challenge. I was like, "no, I don't want to freeze or waste the water"—so I would donate, donate, donate.

A blue mop bucket suspended in air as though pouring.
In summer 2014 the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social media effort to promote ALS awareness, challenged people to donate to the ALS Association or dump a bucket of ice water on their head. Jeanette Senerchia, whose husband had the degenerative nerve disease, used this bucket in launching the challenge.

It is a simple bucket, something you can find at your local hardware store, but it takes on a whole other meaning in regard to the charity and what so many accomplished with the challenge.

Has what philanthropy means to you changed since working on the exhibit?
Absolutely! I hate asking for money and am not a natural fundraiser, but I was named the museum's campaign coordinator for the 2018 Combined Federal Campaign and had to do just that. It was really nerve-racking to ask other people to give money or time. Attending the Giving in America team meetings helped me through it. I kept thinking about the individuals represented in the exhibit or the objects that seem mundane or simple but make a huge difference to organizations that benefit from fundraising initiatives.
So I just kept thinking, "It's for a good cause. I can do this. I can go and embarrass myself and talk to every person." I just kept telling myself I'm making a difference.
Katharine Klein is a specialist in the Exhibition and Collection Management Office and is the collections manager for a number of exhibitions, including Inventive Minds, Spark!Lab, FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000, and Religion in Early America.
The Philanthropy Initiative is made possible by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and David M. Rubenstein, with additional support by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees' Initiative, a grantmaking program of Fidelity Charitable.