It’s usually those with money who say “Money isn’t everything”, right? Now you can even be a philanthropist without necessarily having oodles of spare cash. In a July 2014 article in the Guardian penned by Cheryl Chapman of City Philanthropy (London, UK), effective philanthropy today is “not about what you give, but the way that you give it”. Size should not matter, writes Chapman – “it’s what you do with your resources that can really count” (http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/jul/11/why-you-dont-have-to-be-rich-to-be-a-philanthropist).
I completely agree.
Agreeing with the notion that “you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist” surfaces the obvious question, though, of “what is a philanthropist?” So allow me to share the working definition that I use: a philanthropist is somebody who takes their own cash and spends it on supporting a cause that they believe in, a cause that they believe will improve their community, contribute to social development, and contribute to redressing social advantage/ disadvantage and crippling inequity. There are many many kinds of giving, and many ways to give and many things to give of and to – but my working definition of philanthropy is that it is about giving financially (ie. money) and it is about supporting social development, and it is about giving in a way that itself is designed (in the giving process) to redress social inequity and injustice. And you really don’t have to be rich, then, to be a philanthropist.
We should all, as engaged citizens, support social development. We need to give what we can to causes and initiatives that we believe will make a quantifiable (or qualifiable) difference to the intended person, or groups of people, or issue. We can give in small amounts, regularly. We can give once-off when we have the money. We can pool our resources and form a giving circle, now becoming increasingly popular as a way of engaging in social development. But it is about how the giving happens, what the intention is, what cause or initiative is supported, and what the long-term systemic impact is intended to be. It is about active citizenship and standing up to be counted. It is about being able to answer the question: “So what did YOU do to make things different?”. Its the counter-balance to social and civil apathy and dependency.
Defining philanthropy as such is in no way intended to undermine or negate the enormous value of more immediate needs-based giving. Such support is the very stuff of what makes us human, it is the essence of community, it is the thread that binds us. People give to support people in crisis, giving food or blankets or money, for example. We give to “the poor”. We give because we want to “help those in need”. We give time, we give energy, and we often give expertise and support.
I spent the last eight years working with Inyathelo, an organisation based in Cape Town, South Africa on communicating almost the same message. In South Africa, we have been promoting the notion that anybody can be a philanthropist, and can give their own money to a social justice or social development cause geared at addressing imbalances or at correcting systemic wrongs. I came on board at Inyathelo to establish the annual Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards, South Africa’s key point of recognition for our local philanthropy heroes. I came on to establish the concept and the process and to make this philanthropy promotion agenda a national one.
The key message shared every year at these awards, and across the now +60 people who have been recognised through an Inyathelo Philanthropy Award, is that it doesn’t matter how much you give, it’s what you manage to leverage with your giving that counts. It doesn’t matter how much you give, its what you achieve with what you are able to contribute. And it doesn’t matter how much you give, it matters rather that you give in a way that reflects a different social dynamic – one that doesn’t get played out across the haves/ have-nots divide, but happens differently, as co-creation, co-development, co-activism.
This last one is the tough nut to crack. How do we give in ways that are about co-creation, co-development and co-activism? If we can get that right, and share resources in a way that doesn’t recreate and entrench existing structures and dynamics of power and privilege, then we will be on the right platform to start creating a just society.