Philanthropy comes from the Greek and means love (philos) of humankind (anthropos).
*This article written 18 months ago seems equally, and particularly, apropos this week. So I’m sharing it again.
- Nonprofits are here to be kind.
- To repair the world.
- To make our communities better, more just, more beautiful and more caring places.
This is not easy work.
- Love is not always readily accepted or given.
- Inspiring generosity takes time, talent and patience.
- You will sometimes try and fail.
- You will sometimes get beaten down
But you know you must keep trying. Because that’s the job of philanthropy facilitators.
Let me add to the definition of “philanthropy.” Robert Payton (the nation’s first full-time Professor of Philanthropic Studies and one of the founders of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University) defined it as: “Voluntary action for the public good.” I’ve always loved this definition, because every word is impactful. It’s voluntary (no one is being coerced). It’s action (something is actually being done, whether it’s service or an investment of money) and it’s all directed “for the public good.”
There’s a reason almost every religion has some version of what is often called “The Golden Rule.”
When we don’t follow these empathic admonitions, civilization dies.
- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
- “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”
- “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Darwin wrote about “survival of the fittest.” He did not mean to imply civilization would survive by the strongest killing off the weakest. That widely held interpretation is actually attributable to the philosopher Herbert Spencer. Darwin meant communities, and actually posited “survival of the most empathic.” He found, in the end, it’s not about individuals. It’s about groups. And the communities that thrived were those that were most connected and compassionate. They put themselves in each other’s shoes. They took care of one another.
That’s what is most needed during times where the world seems out of control.
Acts of caring and concern. And acts of connection. Acts of empathic listening. Not just hopeful thoughts.
This is not a time to hunker down, hide until things blow over or sit quietly by in isolation.
As tempting as it may be to tell ourselves things will get better because they must, that’s a risky bet when real lives are at stake now.
Right now it’s time to come together and take concerted action to bring the world back into balance.
The problems can seem vast and overwhelming, I know. But you don’t have to do everything. Do something. Help others do something.
It turns out most people want to help. I hear so many say “I want to do something, but just feel so powerless.”
The job of today’s nonprofit leaders is to give people the power they have trouble finding on their own.
To facilitate people’s best instincts. To help people turn their feelings of helplessness and despair into acts of helpfulness and hope.
When you’re able to do this, you also help your would-be helpers.
Those who facilitate philanthropy not only help the beneficiaries of the outpouring of love, they also help the philanthropists by bringing meaning and purpose into their lives.
- Make it your mission to help donors give.
- Make it your mission to help volunteers act.
- Make it your mission to help advocates advocate.
Especially when the world seems out of control.
It’s one way to alter current reality and restore balance to a wobbling world.
Survival of the fittest means loving both our own and, by extension, all of humanity.
A friend of mine attended an interfaith community vigil to remember those killed in the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh. She texted me to tell me the great comfort she found in being with the group. They sang songs. They read the names of each of those who perished. They remembered them, so their memories would live on and become blessings.
- They didn’t hate. Rather, in the face of hate, they loved.
- They didn’t sit and stew. Rather, in the face of hate, they cared.
- They didn’t succumb to fear. Rather, in the face of hate they reached out and hoped.
A community restores hope by reaching out with kindness and empathy, adhering to the firm belief that the more they love and care, the more love and care there will be.
That’s the essence of philanthropy. And survival.
Philanthropy is a powerful force for good.
You’ve no doubt heard the adage that “love conquers all.”
One thing is true: Love that is not expressed won’t conquer a thing.
Love of humanity takes active practice.
What can you do, today, to practice and facilitate philanthropy?
You’re not responsible for completing the job, only for beginning. I’m reminded of one of the most cited of Jewish texts, “Ethics of Our Fathers”:
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Transform tragedy, hatred and horror into meaningful acts of compassion.
There are many ways to be a part of repairing the world.
I know you can think of a bunch. [Here are some suggestions from a past article I wrote.]
Then, act. And lead others toward those actions.
A community, or a civilization, that cares for each other survives.
As overwhelming as things may seem, it doesn’t mean we can’t do something. Just one thing.
Voting is a great start.
It was heartening to see you reference The Golden Rule in your message, Claire. As you point out: “…almost every religion has some version of what is often called ‘The Golden Rule.”‘
Over 5 billion people are religious or spiritual. Over 2 billion of those folks are Christians. So it’s within the ranks of the religious “where the numbers are.”
I want to suggest a revised version of this universally known and respected moral and ethical precept; a rule that’s inherently grounded in empathy and compassion:
“Do for others, either directly or indirectly, what you would want done for you.” And, “Don’t do to others, either directly or indirectly, what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
In this more contemporary version, the word others means all others; all sentient beings — both humans and non-humans alike.
The use of the words directly and indirectly also serve to expand the application of The Golden Rule. Let’s use the situation of a homeless person as an example; a person for whom we would, ideally, demonstrate our empathy and compassion.
It’s likely that most people wouldn’t be willing to act directly; that is, to take the homeless person into their own home, for example, to provide him or her with the basics of food and shelter.
So, instead, we can act indirectly to help. One of the easiest things to do is simply to make a donation of money or time to a community-based organization that works directly to help the homeless.
As you said in your message: “A community restores hope by reaching out with kindness and empathy, adhering to the firm belief that the more they love and care, the more love and care there will be. That’s the essence of philanthropy. And survival.” Well said.
Here’s to humanity moving ever upward, towards living in accord with an even higher and better version of our own Golden Rule; the rule that’s been “owned” for so long by billions of people all around the world.
Who are we to break a rule that’s been ‘owned,’ as you suggest, by billions and more? The fact this is so restores hope. What we have in common is bigger than our differences. Thanks for your comments.