I used to think philanthropy was a rich man’s world. Industrial tycoons and their petty female arm candy who attended fancy galas and bought things at auctions– that was my picture of philanthropy. And ultimately, I thought the point was to receive a tax break, meanwhile demonstrating to one’s elite circle that one was generous. It was a way to have one’s cake and eat it too.
Furthermore, I used to believe that generosity was a destination rather than a posture. It was a status to be achieved by years of hard work and dedication. Generosity was a reward for many years of selfishness, I thought. And don’t we all hope to be generous one day?
As it turns out, I could not be more wrong about both.
What is philanthropy?
A philanthropist is anyone who gives anything– time, money, experience, skills, networks– in any amount, to create a better world.
A philanthropist is anyone who gives anything. Regardless of your salary, the level of your education, or the circles you run in, your resources are already a precious commodity. How?
1) You might give time when you volunteer at a local nonprofit or babysit for your neighbors.
2) You might give money to a cause you believe in, or fund a project spearheaded by someone you trust.
3) You might share your experience with those who do not have it, whether you’re helping someone apply to college, teaching them to cook their own meals, or dishing out blogging advice on your own blog.
4) You might use your unique skills to help someone in desperate need. You might write eloquently about a social issue in order to raise awareness. Or you lead discussions online or in person about things that matter.
5) You might even help a friend by sharing his/her need with your networks, and gathering a community to meet that need.
As you can see, philanthropy is not an old world term for tax breaks, parties and a good public image. While it might mean that for some, it means so much more in this needy day and age.
We can’t leave philanthropy– and generosity– to those whom we think live in excess. We need to step into it with all that we have, because we ourselves are rich with resources. And our giving can take on so many different forms.
The Beauty of Generosity
My vision of generosity changed about 10 years ago. Now I firmly believe that generosity is a choice we can make every single day. It has little to do with how wealthy we are, and more to do with how ready we are to serve others.
More importantly, generosity is a great joy. It is an incredible gift that no one should miss out on, in any season of our lives– whether rich or poor. In Ephesians, Paul writes about how a thief can become a generous giver. How is that even possible, and why would that be necessary? He writes:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands so that he may have something to share with those in need.
Generosity is the opposite of theft; therefore it is a sign of healing and redemption for the thief. One who steals not only stops stealing but becomes someone who gives. His identity is no longer in what he takes from others but how he shares his own gifts with them.
And the good news is, we don’t need to have much disposable income or be completely debt-free before we can be generous. Given Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen’s definition of philanthropy, we all can be generous right now.
In what ways would you like to be generous? How are you already generous?
What are your reactions toward the idea of philanthropy? Do you see yourself as a philanthropist? In what ways have you served others, and what (if anything) stands in your way now? I’d love to know!