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.