Can Philanthropy be Mutually Beneficial?

phi·lan·thro·py
1. the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed esp. by the generous donation of money to good causes.

I have mixed feelings about Philanthropy and “charity.” Both connote the transfer of resources from ones who have unto ones who have not. And that’s not what we seek in philanthropic work.

Rather, I think philanthropy embodies a spirit of community and commonality. It’s truly genuine and authentic compassion, no question. But to think of it as one-sided charity is to miss the point of authentic compassion and living in community with others.

Five reasons Philanthropy can be mutually beneficial:

1. Philanthropy helps our own communities to improve, making things better for us and for our children.

By helping to improve the lives of our families, friends, and the people around us, we’re directly improving the relationships between us and our own communities. Plus we’re improving our sense of pride in our places and spaces. Philanthropy improves our own communities and makes us feel connected to that improvement. If we improve the quality of life in our communities, we improve our quality of life by association.

2. Philanthropy makes us feel good.

Giving and sharing makes us feel important and necessary. Conversation about the meaning of life and why we exist: They’re conversations about uncovering our necessity to the world around us. If we can discover why we’re here, we can discover how much we’re needed. And to feel needed is a remarkable and empowering thing.

3. Philanthropy improves the bottom line.

Yeah, I said it. For the sake of good business and more profit, philanthropy can be mutually beneficial. It is a mark of quality and excellence in business today to support causes that improve the lives of others. Corporate philanthropy is a business strategy. It can come with awards, honorary degrees, promotions, special recognitions, and even more profits. Rather than compete for the same customers year in and year out, philanthropy can increase the means to develop new markets and empower new customers.

In Baltimore last year I met a man who told me he hadn’t eaten in three days. When this man happens into a few bucks, he’s going to buy a sandwich, not an iPad or an Audi or a box seat to the O’s game. But improving the welfare and the means of this man’s community can increase his purchasing-options, empowering him and exposing him to greater opportunities while expanding and diversifying the consumer customer base at the same time.

4. Philanthropy is Good. Capital “G.”

People still live by varying codes of ethics and morality in this world: inheritable, passed-down systems of existing in community with other people. You might believe Goodness will get you into heaven; you might not. Either way, it’s the Goodness, Quality, and standard of excellence to which we ascribe that is the effect of philanthropy. Goodness is a thing to strive for and for as long as we live in community with others (and we all do), we should strive to do Good.

5. Philanthropy is responsible.

This is different than Goodness, I think. Philanthropy is environmentally and socially responsible. By using only what we need to live happily and comfortably (and I suppose there’s a tenuous line sometimes between “need” and “want”) we should feel compelled to offer abundances to those that have not had the same privileges to live happily and comfortably. Philanthropy is responsible to the environment we live in and to the people we live with.

(For some reason, people sometimes mistake the word “responsibility” with “culpability.” Being responsible to care for the people and places around us doesn’t have to imply guilt; it simply means we should take care of our people and resources because despite what you may have heard, they’re not infinite.)

Philanthropy is a way to improve our lives and the lives of our children; to make us feel needed and connected; to help the bottom line; and to be Good and responsible citizens. By any or all of these, philanthropy is a mutually beneficial activity. What kind of philanthropy we do is up to us. There are a zillion for-profit and nonprofit social benefit and philanthropic organizations out there. It is a privilege to live with abundance in community with others. And it is our right to choose to support the causes that speak to us and instill trust that our time and money is being used to mutually beneficial goals.

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