(Image created by Loved GmbH. Submitted for UN Global Call Out To Creatives - COVID-19. Via UnSplash)
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with Michael O’Bryan from HumanNature (Formerly HD2 Solutions) to discuss how social justice and human development play a role in philanthropy.
I started the conversation with a level setting question — What is your definition of philanthropy? I asked this because if you ask several people, you will get several different answers.
As O’Bryan took a moment to answer, he questioned who philanthropy is for.
“If we are giving back to feel good,” he said, “and in the way that works best for us as philanthropists —how are we showing up on behalf of those in need?”
As we moved forward without a definitive answer, I began to question my understanding of philanthropy.
Technically, philanthropy is rooted in the Greek philanthrōpia meaning “love to mankind.” But what is love? Our definitions of love are rooted in our own lived experience, and like any relationship, what if the love that has been given is not the love needed?
“When we look at how one’s understanding of love differs, think of nature vs nurture. Nature is one’s innate behavior while nurture is one’s learned behavior. An individual’s concept of love is affected by both nature and nurture. Ultimately the social relationships and environments they are surrounded by change their understanding of love. Therefore, love is actually fluid even causing the same person’s perception to vary due to their experiences and environment.”
— Leeshe N. Grimes, psychotherapist, Elevated Minds LLC
Due to this perception, like philanthropy, if you ask several people “what is love,” you will get different answers.
“Love is someone that ‘has your back’ no matter what.” — J. Hoff
COVID-19 has shown that foundations can go above the mandated 5% to give. They have shown that when our communities are in the direst of straits; they can sacrifice their fund balances to be of service. However, COVID-19 did not just create issues, it highlighted our lack of progress and service to our communities. If love has our back, no matter what, then shouldn’t foundations always go above 5%? If foundations limit “having our back,” is it really love, is it really philanthropy?
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“Love is a pure and positive deep affection for someone or something” — M. Pearson
Whether time, talent, and/or treasure, philanthropists give in a way that allows them to be of service. Their service is defined by their moral imagination, and the empathy they have developed for a cause or community. However, more times than not, philanthropists do not fully understand the root causes or needs of the people their dollars are focused on before they set their giving priorities.
If they are so removed from the ultimate recipient, where does this pure and positive emotion come from to genuinely care about those impacted by their dollars? What factors of nature or nurture influenced their moral imagination and the empathy they have for other’s suffering? What factors have influenced their focus on yearly program-focused grants when the need is general operating and multi-years grants? If their decisions are based on their bottom line and not their affection and genuine understanding for the recipient, is it truly love, is it truly philanthropy?
“Love is service and a giving of one’s self. It is the absolute most selfless act and can be demonstrated in a myriad of ways but summarized by devoting one’s self to serving another with no need for reciprocation.” — T. Alexis
As many fundraisers can attest, when seeking large/major gifts a question is always asked whether directly or indirectly — how will I be thanked for this gift? We sit with our management teams to determine what program or building can bear a donor’s name. We try to figure out which donor directives can be implemented in our programming that will meet their wants, and still bring value to those we serve.
If love does not need reciprocation and is selfless, can donors give dollars and expect nothing but a thank you in return, if not, is philanthropy love?
“Love is an intense version of like” — S. Walton
Maybe philanthropy is just an intense like of mankind. A like where gifts — be it time, talent, and/or treasure — are only based on what philanthropists like to give and not their love or true care for what others may need. Where their “like” is grounded in their moral imagination and their imagination has run wild, devoid of reality or true understanding.
If philanthropy likes our communities just enough to provide aid, but not solve or truly uplift the issues it faces, is it time for a new term, is it time for a new definition?
As 2020 comes to an end, let us leave our lack of love here. For 2021, let us move beyond philanthropy.-30-
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