Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Is It Really Charity?

Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving. ~Hank Rosso
But what is charity? ~ Pilar Stella

As I work on building a business around giving and philanthropy, the term "charity" keeps popping up and every time it does I find myself twitching with irritability. We have moved into the 21st century and continue to do so more and more every day with techology, social media and even movements for change. I have been completely inspired over the past months as I begin to see corporations, celebrities and world leaders truly embrace making a difference and giving.

My only issue: Yes, it is that word charity. As I sat down to write about this, I hesitated, as the definitions and meaning behind charity are well-meaning and well-intended. Words such as benevolent goodwill, love of humanity, generosity and helpfulness, gift for benevolent purposes popped up. All leaving a warm feeling in my heart.

But perhaps, well-meaning and well-intended on the part of the intender, may not always be received as well. When I dug further into definitions of charity, I got to words like relief for the needy and lenient judgement of others. It sounds as though the terminology "charity" may continue to maintain and perpetuate a hierarchy between giver and receiver.

In my work with foundations, corporations and others, I work to move away from the concept of "charitable" giving and towards a model of strategic, sustainable and exchangeable giving. This becomes more of an acknowledgement of the exchange that happens in the giving - the mutual benefit, not just the one way giving to, yet a way to create a cycle of giving and receiving to become more sustainable on both ends. For the donor there is always a gift in exchange. For the recipient, a return gift, knowledge or service.

Giving opens the way for receiving.- Florence Scovel Shinn

I started thinking that perhaps it is time that we move into the 21st century with giving, as we have in so many other realms, and start using another word that captures the beauty of the exchange and removes the hierarchy. What that word is I am not sure yet. I have tried to replace charity in my own vocabulary with nonprofit or otherwise. Yet, to some extent, there needs to be another word as we find ways to move the donors in the direction of giving and seeing the benefit that comes to them and the recipient to recognizing that in receiving they are giving in return - their service, good will, knowledge, wares, or otherwise.

This is all just food for thought and perhaps just the beginning of a longer dialogue we will begin to have with and through OneGiving and on a global scale as more engage in giving and discussions about it. No matter what, may you continue to give fully and freely - of yourself, your time, your money, your service, your love or just through a smile or a hug.

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present. ~ Albert Camus

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