So you’re not rich! If you give anything to charity–time, talent, or treasure–you still call yourself a philanthropist. And it might be time to change your mindset about giving.
These ideas come from Laura Arrillaga Andreeson, who just published a new book about democratizing philanthropy, called Giving 2.0. She spoke at a recent luncheon of the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Laura comes from a family with a long history of philanthropy and interest in social change. And she believes that the concept of “philanthropist” is ripe to be democratized. It should no longer belong to an elite class of wealthy people. Laura wants it to belong to the 99% as well as the 1%.
The meaning of “philanthropy” is love, not money. (The Greek word is philanthrōpía: “love for mankind.”) Laura believes that the only thing you need to become a philanthropist is generosity and a special moment in which you feel called to give. How much you give is not what’s important. I loved this statement she made:
“If your gift matters to you, it will matter to others.”
Of the $290 billion or so given to charity last year in the U.S., $235 billion was given by individuals. People like you and me. And research has shown that in terms of relative value, low-income people give a larger percentage of their assets.
Laura also talked about the value of time and talent. She said that last year, 63 million people in the U.S. gave time and energy to nonprofits that added up to 8.1 billion hours or about $170 billion in additional value.
Laura begged us—as I’m sure she does at all of her speaking engagements—to please keep it up. She cited these statistics:
Thinking about these horrifying realities prompted Laura to think about ways to make our giving matter more. She suggests that we treat our philanthropic contributions like investments and give them the same attention we give our for-profit investments, like our stock purchases and retirement accounts. She says we should be more proactive in our giving—which means to let it express our own concerns, values, and passions. She contrasts this with reactive giving, such as when you see a sad child’s face on the TV and send a few dollars on impulse.
Emotions such as guilt or fear won’t lead us to make lasting change. Instead, if we are passionate about who and what we support, and approach our contributions strategically, we will have a great impact—especially if we pool our resources with others who as passionate about the same issues.
“What we do for other people defines who we are.”
P.S. After composing this blog, I came across an interesting article on the same subject by the Nonprofit Quarterly. This is much more academic and detailed, and will probably appeal more to those of you working in philanthropy.