Let’s Talk About Love (and Philanthropy)

I have to jump on the Valentine’s Day bandwagon and dedicate this week’s post to love.

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You might be wondering what love has to do with your organization. In a few weeks, in our #WordsThatWow series, I’ll post about how using more words of love and gratitude can help your organization in a big way. But today, I want to focus on the language of love.

Love, as it exists in the English language, has the habit of causing some confusion. This is because it covers a wide range of feelings and emotions. You can use the same word to indicate a type of toothpaste you prefer as you would to describe how you feel about the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. Something about that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t you think? And don’t get me started on the confusion it causes in relationships. We’ve gone so far as having to distinguish between “love” and “being in love”. But even that means different things to different people.

The ancient Greeks knew better than to have one word to describe such a range of things. They had at least four separate words to describe different types of love: Spiritual love (agápe), physical love (éros), familial love (storgē), and mental love (philía). Philía is often translated into English as brotherly love or friendship. If this word sounds familiar to you, I’m not surprised. Ever wonder why Philadelphia is the “City of Brotherly Love”? Philía is the root of many other words we use today: Philosophy (love of knowledge), philology (love of learning), and basically any word that ends in –phila or –phile (bibliophile, Anglophile, etc.)

My favorite philía word, however, is philanthropy (love of mankind). If you are part of a philanthropic organization, this may resonate with you as well. We are doing what we are doing because of a love of mankind. When someone makes a donation to our organization, it is because of a love of mankind. We want to make the world a better place because of a love of mankind. And that’s something to keep in mind not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day.

Happy loving, everyone!

Giving USA: giving is lookin’ good

Giving USA, philanthropy, fundraisingThis morning, I got a whirlwind run-down on Giving USA 2013. Tom Mesaros, of The Alford Group, gave a lively overview of all those charts and graphs. (Shout-out to Pacific Continental Bank for making this info-packed, muffin-filled breakfast possible!)

Tom made many good points. One of his Great Big Points was that, as a country, we’re pretty darn generous. Total contributions were $316.23 billion in 2012. Not exactly chump change. 72% came from individuals. Foundations account for 14%. When you figure that lots of the foundation money comes from individuals, this paints a rosy picture of our altruistic acumen.

Tom also spoke to some of the challenges we face as a sector. Terrible note-taker that I am, I didn’t manage to get them all down, but one really stood out: the growth challenge.

  • Are people still hungry? Yes.
  • Are there still homeless children on our streets? Yes.
  • Is the environment still in danger of going up in smoke? Yes.

The list goes on and on. There is still significant unmet need. If we’re going to realizing our vision of a better world, we have to grow in order to meet his need.

Although we’re making a comeback from our 2008 ‘hiccup’, the report estimates we still have six to seven years to go before we hit pre-recessionary levels (adjusted for inflation, mind you). Cramped influx of capital with high unmet need. It’s kind of a conundrum.

Broken record alert: we’re only retaining 3 out of 10 donors. I feel like there’s a connection between this stat and the charts/graphs in the Giving USA Report and the aforementioned conundrum. If we can make headway on retention, imagine what that would do in terms of growth! Makes my heart palpitate.

Smart growth is complicated. Expanding and deepening engagement is complicated. I’ll give you that. But as I was sitting there this morning, I couldn’t help but think how much we’re under-utilizing a really cheap asset–language.

We’re using words anyway (at an average rate of 15,000 per day). If we made them count more, how much would that help with retention? With meeting unmet need? With engaging more people at a deeper level in this thing called philanthropy? Even if all we did was fixed our pitches, what impact would that have?

I wonder. I really, truly do.



Charity or Philanthropy: take your pick

Charity and Philanthropy: both bring light to the world

Here’s a question during this season of giving: If you volunteer at the local food bank or toss coins into the Salvation Army bucket, are you being charitable or philanthropic?

Last year at this time, Aktkar Badshah, who heads up Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship office, spoke at AFP Washington’s Annual Meeting. He made an interesting distinction between charity and philanthropy. It’s a distinction that I’ve been mulling over for twelve months now. It may seem like quibbling over semantics but I think it’s worth getting clear on this distinction as you head into the final throes of 2011.

Akthar explained that charity is an individual act that benefits the community at large whereas philanthropy increases the well-being of human kind. In this construct, charity is shorter term and, it would seem, lower impact whereas philanthropy is longer term and higher impact.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with charitable acts. Quite the contrary! They add up to a philanthropic culture and that’s what we’re going for, i.e. enough charitable acts eventually lead to wide-scale impact, or philanthropy.

During this time of year when your supporters have doing good on the brain, the question is: are you creating opportunities for charity or fueling philanthropy? Depending on your goals, either is fine. Just be clear on which one it is.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?