Living the compassion of Jesus

Philanthropy vs. Charity

There has been much conversation in the last several years about how we can help others in need without hurting them. (Something Bob Lupton termed "toxic charity.")

Assisting those in need can range from donating time and skills to providing cash or in-kind gifts to those faced with challenging financial situations. 

The best resource to donate - and the best method for distribution - is a hotly debated topic. And one that is vitally important for us to discuss as we seek to live out the compassion of Jesus. 

One of the most recent additions to this on-going conversation is a Washington Post piece by Benjamin Soskis entitled: "What if philanthropy isn't the best way for rich people to help others?"

In this opinion article Soskis discussed the tension between short-term and long-term focused philanthropic giving. For decades the opinion has been popularized that: 

Whereas charity was wasteful and prompted by sentimental impulses, modern philanthropy would be efficient. Whereas charity tended to symptoms, philanthropy would address root causes. Charity’s imperatives were religious, while philanthropy borrowed its logic from the laboratory and the boardroom. Charity was parochial, while modern philanthropy would turn its attention to regional, national and even global problems. Charity might temporarily improve the condition of the poor, but philanthropy would abolish poverty itself.
— Benjamin Soskis

And yet, some research is beginning to show the effectiveness of "indiscriminate giving" (i.e. charity) and the success of crowdfunding (think: GoFundMe) in the 21st century. 

And systematizing helping others can begin to make it feel somewhat cold and un-relational can't it?

The balance, then, is how do we reconcile the goal of effectiveness in our giving with the human desire to be relational and loving in our giving?

What should we focus on? The root-causes and results focused philanthropy? Or the situational and feelings-driven charity? 

I think there is a place for both. 

Like most things in life, moderation is the best policy. If we swing too far one way or the other, we get out of balance and at risk for unhealthy results. 

When we focus on just philanthropy, the negative consequences can be: 

  • Just worrying about the "big money."
  • Focusing just on stats rather than people. 
  • Sacrificing relationships for efficiency. 

On the other side, however, a focus solely on charity can negatively produce: 

  • Dependency on hand-outs and a cycle of aid. 
  • A lack of empowerment, work-ethic, or hope. 
  • Unhealthy, one-sided relationships of "heroes" helping "the needy." 

But when we utilize both philanthropy and charity to their strengths, we are able to provide support for work and research into addressing the systemic issues in our communities and our world, while also meeting the individual needs of those who live right around us and in areas of the world that we are deeply passionate about. 

Perhaps it is in the balance between the two that we are able to address long and short term issues, battle systemic and personal challenges, and seek to help humanity and individual friends. 

So, what do you think? Can there be a balance? Should there be a dichotomy between philanthropy and charity? 

And, if so, which one should we strive for more?

Comment below with your thoughts!