Dolly Parton is one of the best-known philanthropists in America today, having given millions of her own money to help her community and others around the world.
She communicates the importance of helping others by her own example of giving, along with being able to ask others to come alongside and help in a variety of situations.
Dolly Parton is much more than a country music icon. Over the past several decades, she has emerged as one of this century’s greatest philanthropists and communicators, donating millions of dollars of her own money to a number of causes close to her heart and helping to raise millions more.
When someone is as genuine and caring as Parton, it’s hard to ignore her when she asks you to do your part to help as well.
Parton has used her top communication skills to help her community and convince large numbers of people to give their resources to be a part of her positive actions. Here are some of the techniques she uses.
Genuinely Caring About Others
Parton’s philanthropic efforts started with her genuine care and compassion for the needs of people around her and in her community. Having grown up in poverty and experienced illiteracy (her father could not read), Parton began her charitable efforts by giving books to children in the community where she grew up. And she expanded the program across the country and even to some other countries around the world.
She soon began offering scholarships to students in her hometown, Sevier, Tennessee, when she found out that the high school had a high dropout rate. After establishing this program, the school’s dropout rate went from 35% to only 6%.
Parton showed once again that she cared about her hometown and state when wildfires ravaged the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016. She donated $1,000 per month for six months to each family who lost a home in the fires and held several fundraisers that helped many more people affected by the fires.
Leading By Example
A large part of the power of Parton’s philanthropy is her willingness to lead by example, donating her own funds to the causes she cares about before asking anyone else to give. Almost every one of her major efforts began with a generous donation of her own money before the project spread and included the giving of others.
If more help was needed after Parton gave her funds, Parton would then hold benefit concerts to encourage others to give. In this way, Parton was able to help restore the nearly 2,500 buildings destroyed in the fires through her private contributions plus the over $9 million she helped to raise with two benefit concerts, along with other artists.
Making Small Asks That Have Big Impact
Almost no one else could give $1 million of their own money to help families displaced by fires or to research the COVID-19 vaccine, as Parton did. But most people can do something to help, and Parton has learned that making small “asks” can have a big impact to help people and improve situations.
After the Tennessee fires, Parton consistently told people who asked how they could help to come and visit the Gatlinburg/Sevierville/Pigeon Forge area, which had been a tourist area before the fires, and not to cancel their planned trips there. Parton’s small ask caused the region to break all records for tourism in 2017, the year after the fires.
Other small asks by Parton have included tickets to benefit concerts and donations to her Imagination Library program for preschoolers, which costs $27 per year to send free books to each child. She also asks recipients to donate the books to preschools or libraries after the children outgrow them. She knows it is possible to make a significant impact even with a small donation.
Influencing and Communicating Through Good Works
Because of Parton’s caring attitude and many philanthropic activities, she has become an influencer in her sphere, the country and gospel music communities, and in her hometown area of Tennessee. Although this is undoubtedly not why Parton decided to give to charity, her good works have made people pay attention and listen to what she has to say.
Parton has made statements about recent cultural issues, including gay marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement, that don’t seem to fit with being a woman of faith in the country music business. But she has been able to say what she thinks because people know she is genuine and lives according to her beliefs.
She has been able to cut through much of the posturing found in both music and politics because she is consistent in her statements and expresses them simply but clearly, and often with some humor and wit.
During the BLM protests of 2020, Parton said in support, “I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen. And, of course, Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”
Her comments did not express support for the BLM organization itself but for the people who wanted to be “known and felt and seen” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Find the Humanity
The beauty of Dolly Parton is that she can and does take a political or controversial situation and finds the humanity in it. Out of her own good fortune to make it as an iconic singer and musician, Parton has helped hundreds of thousands of people better their lives or meet their needs in some way.
Parton knows that we are all just people with needs, and if she has a way to meet those needs, she’s going to do it. And whatever people’s political or cultural views, they would likely be better off, and could improve their communities as well, if they approached the world as she does.
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