In an age that seems obsessed with social change, shouldn’t we be thrilled by the charity of others? It’s true, all the help that we give to those who are suffering is good and necessary. But I do fear that some of the push for change we see in the world is rooted out of a “knee-jerk” emotional desire for the world to change, as opposed to a solidified, strategic goal of embodying that change we so desperately wish to see.

This concept has recently led me to think about the difference between charity and philanthropy. To many, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference. In fact, many view charity as the organizations that give money to those in need and philanthropy as something that famous people do to give back. But the truth is, you don’t have to be or know Bono or even be massively wealthy to be a philanthropist.

There are more to these concepts than we typically think, and I believe it’s vitally important we discuss the reasoning and outcomes of both.

What’s the Difference?

Charity is the change we leave in the jar in the hopes that change will come in the world. While giving to charities is an excellent cause (and there are many great charities), it’s often classified as something that is an emotional and momentary response to something we see or hear about in the world. In fact, Steve Gunderson, former president of the Council of Foundations, provides a helpful distinction between charity and philanthropy:

Charity tends to be a short-term, emotional, immediate response, focused primarily on rescue and relief, whereas philanthropy is much more long-term, more strategic, focused on rebuilding. There is charity, which is good, and then there is problem-solving charity, which is called philanthropy. – Steve Gunderson

Charity tends to focus on what we can do in response to something.

Philanthropy focuses on providing dignity and respect to the individual.

Buying a meal for someone who is without a home is a great thing to do, but seeking to help build them up as a contributing member of society is even better. For me, philanthropy aims to instill confidence, dignity, and a sense of purpose back into those that so many in society can often forget. Charity is to be encouraged and is still required. But we should also encourage people to continue past giving and enter into partnerships and relationships with organizations and with people.

All are worthy of love, equity and respect. And for me, that’s what philanthropy is.