Charity & Philanthropy… A Love Story To The World

My Consultant Neurologist (ret’d) friend recently asked me, “Daniel, if you won the Lottery, what would you do with it?” 

“It would enable me to be more philanthropic,” I answered.

“You do so much charity work already,” he said. “How would unlimited funds make a difference?”

Steve’s question highlights the subtle nuances between charity and philanthropy. (I missed this subject at school so these are my own thoughts about it. Your comments too, lovely people, would be gratefully appreciated below).

Dictionary gleaned definitions…

Charitable giving is often as the result of a disaster or in response to a request or need for immediate help, whether financial or by giving time. A sudden seeing of the need and responding to it.

Philanthropic giving is ‘the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes’. ‘Love for humankind’. As such, philanthropy has a more long term approach where an overview of prevention and subsequent recovery focusses any giving on, and for, whole term solutions.

Is then charity the collecting or pooling together of funds to reach a larger target, whereas philanthropy enables greater sustainability of plan or project, often being an activity of an individual who has major expendable financial excess?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I went through the house here in French France today, gathering together all the little piles of loose change that collect in the dusty corners of drawers or down the back of the sofas. Even little china pots or glass jars that are dotted about our home seem to be recipients of hastily emptied trouser and jacket pockets before the article of clothing is slung in the washing machine.

What surprised me most was the quantity of cash we have just laying around on a daily basis. Unused and apparently surplus to requirements. We don’t need the small change to feed or clothe us or even make a difference to the monthly fuel bill for the two cars on the driveway. When did we become so affluent in financial wealth that the silver and copper coins of our life are systematically and indefinitely relegated to inconsequential containers and pots? Over 50€ of loose change!

‘In 20 years time we could be millionaires… Rodney!’

Life for us hasn’t always been this way. It wasn’t so long ago we would wish for just one month’s extra salary in the bank to give us a buffer against the surprise bills. The school uniforms that had been pulled through a thicket backwards. The sudden car repair. The broken window. A never ending need for just a little bit more to make ends meet. Working three jobs between us helped.

Charity began and ended at home but, even so, we still amassed items surplus to immediate survival. We rented our home, but we were also able to furnish it and decorate it too. As time passed, the attic became a dumping ground for items no longer required, so when we decided that we could possibly help others, particularly those who had to walk 5 miles to get daily water, our perspective on our own life and our own hardships changed. Suddenly, there were worse things in life than choosing which ornament would grace the fireplace. There were people in this world who we could do something for, to make their life a little easier. 

We began an association with Fields of Life. A Charity drilling water wells in Uganda, close to communities, to provide easy access to fresh water.

How would we rise to this monetary challenge? 

In fact, if it wasn’t nailed down in our house (or even yours if we knew you!), you could expect it to be sold at the next car boot fair! Our stash of unnecessary baggage, collected from the attic was fair game for our fundraising. We became ‘minimalistic’ as every flat surface gained ‘show home’ status, devoid of dust collecting artefacts. 

Following working with Fields of Life, we moved to Chernobyl Children’s Life Line. A Charity set up to bring children, whose families had been affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986, to the UK for a few weeks respite. 

Personally visiting villages in Ukraine and meeting families and organisations, saw us working to support communities by installing school toilets, restoring water pipes to villages and a host of other projects that contributed to improving lives, our trips being self-funded. 

At this time we ran many fundraising events. Through the generous donations from individuals, families, businesses, corporate organisations and you lovely people, great results were achieved.

Running a Charity is not the same as being charitable. It might well be doing good and helping others but, apart from time and effort, the blood, sweat and tears of making things happen, our charitable personal financial giving was limited to what we could manage and afford.

Should we then be making ourselves poor to help others, as in to give away or sell everything we own to understand or appreciate need? Unless giving stretches the giver, what does my giving actually mean?

It means nothing in the greater scheme of things to me if I wave 10€ in the air like the Pharisee of old saying “look, aren’t I wonderful in my charitable generosity” when the 10€ means little more than a takeaway meal or a bottle of wine. The financial implication of my donation has little or no effect on my overall monthly financial balance or bottom line monetary dependency. I have resources to cover the giving of it without incurring any real pain.

However, to the person who has little or no financial wherewithal, whose monthly income barely covers their expenditure, the notion of quietly giving away 10€ into a collection will have a serious effect on their overall ability to make ends meet.

Who, in this instance, is giving more? Is one gift worth more charitably than the other? Does charitable (or philanthropic) giving have to hurt? 

Should true charity, when it comes from the heart, whether it is 1€ or 10,000€, make you squeak?

When there is a need for a rapid responsive reactive charitable giving, like recently to the Turkey/Syria earthquake disaster, I’m sure we all dip into our pocket or reserves and give what we can to ease the immediate suffering of the afflicted, quickly and generously.

However, where long term philanthropy makes such a difference, is in helping deliver solutions to a whole problem, the proactive approach and continued ongoing donating to ensure change occurs for the long term. How prepared are we to carry on helping, when the need becomes ‘old news’ and has fallen off the front page headlines?

To conclude, Philanthropy and Charity – I think they’re both Love by any other name. A Love Story to the world. A never ending, year-round Valentine’s. ‘Faith, Hope and Love. The greatest of these is Love’.

In answering Steve’s question of would having unlimited funds make a difference, I think our charity work continues as usual, but where philanthropy differs for us would be in the utilisation of the acrostic LIFE. To be generous with our Labour, Influence, Finances and Expertise. I’ll just carry on loving, charitably and philanthropically, regardless…

What is your answer…?

Happy Valentine’s Day lovely people…


2 thoughts on “Charity & Philanthropy… A Love Story To The World

  1. A very nice story.
    To differentiate between the two, charity is described primarily as humanitarian aid, while the term philanthropy is used for giving that implies broader and developmental needs, such as supporting culture, science, environmental protection.

    Liked by 1 person

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