What's the difference between charity and philanthropy? Why does it matter?


Lisa Dietlin, author of "Transformational Philanthropy", spoke recently at a North Park University School of Business & Nonprofit Management alumni dinner. She asked about the difference between charity and philanthropy. Do you agree with this definition: charity is a short-term "fix" to help someone with an immediate need? It does seem that many nonprofit organizations are stuck in the mind-set of asking donors for "charity". 

Why not move to a broader paradigm -- that of philanthropy, defined as "a desire to improve the material, social, and spiritual welfare of humanity, especially through charitable activities". [Source: Encarta online dictionary] Philanthropy is "bigger" in its scope and its aim is societal benefit, rather than simply helping people in need, which suggests short-term and immediate actions. 

Lisa Dietlin told a story of a prospective donor, who wanted to make a substantial contribution to a nonprofit organization. The donor had a specific idea of how to help, and had quite a large sum of money in mind to give for that purpose. Lisa connected the prospective donor and the agency so they could talk. The agency could not "hear" the donor's interest; nor did they realize that they were essentially ignoring a potential multi-million dollar gift. This was because they were only thinking of immediate needs of the organization -- for charity. It was also because the prospective donor was an "unknown" to them, and didn't have the name of "Bill Gates" or "Oprah Winfrey", so the agency didn't believe that big dollars were possible.

Don't shortchange your organization by thinking only in terms of "charity". Although the economy is still not where it needs to be, there are many individuals with substantial funds to give. Many of them are extremely uninformed about the nonprofit sector and about the variety of services that are provided through many different organizations. That means there is opportunity here. Will you figure out how to tap into it for your organization?

Here are some resources to consider for "making your case" and other topics that may be helpful:

  1. Preparing a Case for Support
  2. Your Case for Support: Useless Unless It's Used
  3. Prospect Research by the Number for a Small Nonprofit
  4. The Seven I's of Fundraising Building from the Basics
  5. Trends Impacting Philanthropy
  6. Your Guide to Working with Fundraising Consultants
  7. Top 5 Benefits of Working with Fundraising Consultants
  8. Major Gift Fundraising Program Lessons
  9. Three Ways to Identify a Major Donor
  10. Asking for a Major Gift
  11. Philanthropy & Entrepreneurs - About Transformational Philanthropy
  12. A story of a gift that keeps on giving

Lisa Dietlin will teach a workshop on "How to Start a Fundraising Program from Scratch" for the Axelson Center on Nov. 11, 2010. Click here to register. 


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