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Changing Focus from Charitable to Philanthropic

By Lorraine Kelley, CPA

In the nonprofit arena being charitable and being philanthropic are used to describe one’s behavior, actions or thinking. While these descriptive words are similar, they are also very different. Being charitable is often thought of as helping someone solve an immediate need either financially or through a gift of time. Being philanthropic is the act of loving humankind and the act of improving someone’s current life situation. Charitable actions are usually thought of as a short term fix for an immediate need whereas philanthropic actions provide a long term solution to a problem.

As individuals or non-profit groups, we tend to think more in the charitable realm because we can immediately see the result. We see groups of homeless individuals outside a union mission where they are fed and occasionally get a warm night’s rest (but usually, only on very cold nights.) We give money or our time to show our support and to keep the lights on, the food supplied and the place warmed for that night’s rest. We “see” the effects of the charitable donation of time and money, but that time and money is limited and helps only a very few who are suffering. It makes us feel good about what we are doing for others. However, it may not be making a lasting impact.

I encourage you and the non-profits you are working with to continue to focus on your purpose but be sure that you identify how that purpose can move from being charitable to creating a philanthropic impact. I challenge everyone to search for a viable way to solve a difficult problem in our society today. Many times when you move from charitable giving to philanthropic giving you forfeit recognition for the achievement. That is where we all should desire to be. The more impact we place towards changing human lives for the better, the more we should expect to do these things anonymously.

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