Many of us who support the work of nonprofit organizations have been trained to accept the conventional definition of philanthropy: the act of making a large financial gift to a nonprofit or cause. We’re told that philanthropy is one thing, while charitable giving is another. All that separates the two is the number of zeros on the check.
There’s no denying that major capital gifts are mission critical. They can make an immediate and profound impact on a nonprofit’s ability to carry out its mission. These are the gifts that often make the difference in being able to build new buildings, staff new initiatives, and carry out new research. The people who are in the position to make these kinds of gifts — and who do so cheerfully — are important stewards of humanity, and they are to be commended.
But what of the others without the means to give as much? Are they not philanthropists in their own right? Our friends at Wiki tell us that philanthropy is the effort or inclination to increase the wellbeing of humankind. That’s pretty wide open, wouldn’t you say?
To that end, I believe every quarter dropped in the black kettle, every $10 gift placed at the foot of an angel tree, and every check written to a nonprofit during the holidays is an act of philanthropy. Why should those gifts from the heart be classified as different, or any less worthy?
A season is upon us. And as we walk through these weeks together, I urge us all to look for the small gifts and acts of grace that can cumulatively change the world we live in. As my dad used to say, “Being generous has nothing to do with having a lot of money.”