What is philanthropy?

I’ve always imagined a philanthropist was a wealthy person who donated lots of money to their favorite causes.  Well then, that can’t be me!  Sure, I donate a few dollars here and there to causes I believe in, but mostly I just volunteer.

My impressions were changed by a book I read: “The Generosity Plan” by Kathy LeMay.

In her introduction, LeMay says it all in a nutshell:

“You’ll notice the definition [of philanthropy] is not ‘loving of humankind…by contributing $1 million.’ Philanthropy is you and me doing what we can, with what we have, where we are, to borrow President Theodore Roosevelt’s philosophy.

Philanthropy is taking action for the greater good. Philanthropy is each of us contributing our time, our talents, and our financial resources to make a difference. Chances are, you have been practicing philanthropy most of your life.

If you have ever put a donation into the church collection basket, volunteered at a food bank or nursing home, participated in a fundraising walk-a-thon or road race, or written a check to a cause that is near to your heart, then you are a philanthropist.

If your intention is to make the world a better place, and you have given your time, opened your wallet, or offered your talents without an expectation of making money or getting a return, then you are a practicing philanthropist.

The only difference between you and me and Bill Gates:  his checks have more zeroes and he has staff who help him create a plan. Don’t worry about adding more zeroes to your check; philanthropy is not about how much. Philanthropy is intention combined with focus and action.

LeMay’s book goes on to outline ways of developing a generosity plan for yourself to implement the three T’s: sharing your time, treasure, and talent.

It was a sort of “aha” moment for me…It seems that I have been a practicing philanthropist, since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the late 80’s!  Since then, I have gone on to volunteer for organizations working on HIV/AIDS, youth development, and climate change.

** How do you currently practice philanthropy in your life? What do you enjoy about this practice? What are some barriers for you? **

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2 Responses to What is philanthropy?

  1. Ivonne says:

    Great commentary! and not that I did not believe you, but I went and look at the 10 lbs Webster’s Third New Internation Dictionary – “goodwill toward one’s fellowmen esp. as expressed through active efforts to promote human welfare”. I guess I learn something everyday; it feels good that my small contributions are part of a greater goal. I volunteer a lot; theater, at the school, humane society, etc. I would not call them barriers, but I find myself taking on to much sometimes. Is it maybe because I care or I feel some sense of responsibility? Not sure! I’ll just do it anyway!!

    • esralston says:

      Thanks, Ivonne. I was going to put in some definitions but looks like you came up with a great one. Thanks for doing that. The definition I was going to put was: “altruistic concern for human beings, esp. as manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons or to institutions advancing human welfare.” (Webster’s College Dictionary- 1991). So glad that you are doing so much and you asked a great question that is worth exploring. Do we take on too much– how can we take care of ourselves and feel that it is ok to say “no” sometimes?

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