Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Charity vs. Philanthropy

Did you know that donors make a distinction between giving to charity and giving to philanthropic organization? They give generously to charities -- organizations that they see providing aid or relief or responding to urgent needs -- but they give more generously to philanthropic organizations. Let's explore this distinction in more depth.

Charity, to paraphrase an old saw, gives a person a fish; philanthropy teaches that person how to fish.

Charity saves and salves; philanthropy pursues solutions.

Charity pleads for contributions now; philanthropy makes a case for long-term investment (including in perpetuity through the creation of an endowment).

Charity reacts; philanthropy points to a better future.

Charity seeks gifts; philanthropy builds a community of sustained interest and support.

Is the distinction between the two always this sharp? No, I only make it so because too many would-be philanthropic organizations raise money like charities and thereby undercut their potential. A charity can't always afford to raise money like a philanthropy and vice versa. But there is no doubt that the greatest gifts, in general, go philanthropic organizations with a clear long-term vision, a motivating mission, and well-articulated projects that allow donors to see exactly how they can advance that particular cause.

We need both. We need charities, for instance, to provide disaster relief but we also need philanthropies to anticipate disasters and to find ways to lessen their impact. We need charities to alleviate suffering but we also need philanthropies to find ways of keeping more people safe and healthy in the first place.

In subsequent posts, we will delve more deeply into what motivates people to give most generously so we can help philanthropists give in more meaningful ways and help fund-raising organizations better align their purposes with the generous donors who are inclined to support them. I look forward to continuing our dialogue.

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