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Are Charity and Philanthropy Different?

Are Charity and Philanthropy Different?

Posted on Sep 09, 2019

Charity comes from the Old French word, charitté, meaning mercy, compassion, alms, etc. In late old English, it grew along with the Church. A charitable act was, therefore, intrinsically tied to the Christian ideas regarding poverty. Its meaning emerged as “benevolence for the poor”. It became an expression of the highest form of Christian love that relied mainly upon an idea of helping the poor.

Philanthropy, on the other hand, emerges from the Greek word philanthropia meaning “kindliness, humanity, benevolence, love to mankind". Rather than being based on mercy, philanthropy is etymologically rooted in a love that considers the benefactor and beneficiary as equals.

This difference in etymology is indicative of the difference in the founding ideas of the two acts. Charity is more to do with the idea of helping someone seen to be in need. It is based on the supposition of the doer of charity as occupying a higher position. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is based on notions of humanity. It stems from the recognition of all persons as human beings. The philanthropist does not presuppose this superiority.

“Charity tends to be a short-term, emotional, immediate response, focused primarily on rescue and relief, whereas philanthropy is much more a long-term, more strategic, focused on rebuilding. One says there is charity, which is good, and then there is problem-solving charity, which is called philanthropy, and I think that’s the distinction I have tried to make.” – Steve Gunderson, former President and CEO of the Council of Foundations.

What is Addressed?

Charity is an empathetic response to an immediate crisis. Simply put, if you see a person in need, usually financial need, and choose to give them some loose change from your wallet, you are engaging in an act of charity. Charity is a hands-on response that helps meet immediate needs including food, shelter, medical care, etc.

Philanthropy, on the other hand, is a more strategic process of addressing the structural roots of these problems. Societal problems are tackled at their roots in order to make a better world. The scope of charity and philanthropy is largely the same. Both aim to make the world a better place by addressing societal issues. Philanthropy, in targeting the roots of structural problems differs in its approach.

It is easier to understand this difference if the approaches of charity and philanthropy are assessed. This difference will make it clearer as to how charity and philanthropy address different levels; roots and effects, of the same problem.

Method of Charity and Method of Philanthropy

Charity aims to alleviate direct suffering from social problems. Philanthropy aims to look at the roots of these problems and provide solutions to these problems at a more basic level, aiming to omit the problem itself.

For example, let’s take the issue of homelessness. Charity would be an act of giving an individual some money or means to rid themselves of the problem. However, a true philanthropist would look at what causes homelessness and aim to look at the root causes of the problem. They would then look at a more systemic measure such as establishing a home for the homeless, changing the law or another such action.

Philanthropy makes a deliberate attempt to look at and address structural problems rather than alleviating immediate instances and needs.

Charity is simply giving while philanthropy is doing something about why not all persons have the same facilities or opportunities.

Who is Giving?

Philanthropy is usually associated with large corporates and companies, as they are seen to have the means to address issues systematically. Charity is done by individuals as they cannot effectively engage in acts of philanthropy, unless, through corporations engaged in the same.

According to Philanthropy Round Table, out of the $358 billion given to charity by Americans in 2014, 14% came from foundation grants, 5% from corporations and a staggering 81% came from individuals. This clearly indicates that while corporations may have better means to address these issues systemically, it is usually individuals who chose to engage and do something about social problems. The report also found that most charitable giving came from moderate-income households. Simply put, it is not those with the means, corporations or rich individuals who end up giving the most to address these issues.

According to Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, overall charitable giving exceeded 2016 by 5.2%, reaching $410.02 billion in 2017. The number in the USA has rarely exceeded 400 billion. There has been a gradual increase in total charitable giving and charity since the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. This increase is an extremely hopeful outcome. However, it is necessary to assess where this change is coming from.

Stories of Charity and Philanthropy

The stories of charity can be found around us every day. It is seen in the giving of loose change to a beggar or in providing any other such momentary relief to those in need. This sort of charitable giving has the potential to do immense good. Pages such as Humans of New York and the like, share stories of individuals across the world. After the success of the page, they have begun a new campaign. When an individual’s story is shared, an online link is shared as well. If the individual needs financial aid, people from all over the world donate small sums of money to their own capacity. This sort of charitable giving has helped numerous people obtain operations, start their lives and do other such things. No single person has to donate a sum greater than their capacity and the beneficiaries are able to reap the benefits.

An exemplary case of philanthropy is the intervention of multinational personal care corporation Kimberly-Clark in the ‘Toilets Change Lives’ initiative. Given the problems of sanitation and basic hygiene in India, the Indian government aimed to construct 2.5 million household and 100,000 community toilets by March 2016. The company gave US$35.8 million in products and donations to the initiative. However, they did not merely stop there. Their task did not end with providing toilets to the needy. Toilets are perishable; they get dirty and break over time. Kimberly-Clark, being a true philanthropist in this endeavor, partnered with NGOs and charities based on India in order to ensure that the toilets are not only set up but also maintained. Rather than simply addressing the lack of toilets by providing more toilets, Kimberly-Clark worked towards developing a mechanism that allows a long-term change in the sanitation and hygiene level of India by ensuring the maintenance of these provisions.

Another example of philanthropy is in the life of Ed Austin Naberhaus. Austin had visited The Jones Center thrice before his death in 2001. He was amazed at the manner of operation and the free access provided to everyone by the center. He considered it a good place. In his final days, as he was dying of a brain tumor, he drew up his will. He made a gift of $30000 to the center. This is part of the general trend in which individuals, no matter their wealth, choose to give to a charity upon their death.

In Conclusion

Philanthropy is much more vital in addressing issues systematically. It helps address root causes and works towards omitting a problem, rather than simply providing temporary relief. Charity has its own benefits of helping individuals and enabling them to do something about their specific situations. However, unlike philanthropy, it does not work towards eradicating the problem at its basic level.

Charity helps individuals, philanthropy looks at creating situations in which individuals do not need to be helped.

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