Prudent Philanthropy: Are You Contributing Wisely?

charitable giving

Is there is a humanitarian or charitable philanthropist living within you? Are you feeling called to make a greater difference and contribute back to a society potentially in need? If so, what difference, what cause, what contribution? And is your charity doing what it claims?

When you fill your days with your highest priority actions – ones that are focused on a deeply meaningful pursuit or purpose that serves ever greater numbers of others, as well as yourself, you will probably awaken a deeper, more profound and longer lasting level of overall fulfillment and a desire for making a greater contribution to others. And, when you fill your day with actions that contribute to the solution of a humanitarian challenge, one that deeply inspires you, your life is less likely to fill up with low priority distractions that won’t. You’ll live a more solution-oriented life, one that contributes to the greater welfare of those possibly perceived to be less fortunate, as well as one that feels deeply and meaningfully rewarding.

As you pursue, expand and grow certain in your own many individual achievements, you will probably feel compelled to begin a greater leadership role in some humanitarian or philanthropic cause, one that uplifts the welfare of selective or collective social humanity. But, in order to create a sustainable fair exchange between yourself and others, equity and equanimity will be essential. Like most, if not all, human beings, you and others desire mutual respect and dignity.

The practice of charitable philanthropy means the voluntary serving, contributing or giving of help or resources to those possibly perceived less fortunate or in need. There are a number of complementary opposite philosophies about charity. But, effective contribution is the use of evidence and reasoning to determine the most productive ways to contribute respectfully to others.

The word charity originated in late Old English to mean a “love of one’s fellows.” Charity is etymologically linked to the Old French charite which was derived from the Latin caritas. which represents a distinct form of ‘love.’ Over time, the meaning of charity has shifted from one of love to that of providing for those less fortunate or in need.

Charitable philanthropic contributions may come in the form of giving’ money, education, products, services, or time to those assumed or perceived to be less fortunate, either directly, or by means of a charitable trust or other perceptually worthy cause. Charitable giving as an act or duty is also referred to as almsgiving. The name stems from the most obvious expression of the supposed virtue of charity; giving recipients the means they need to survive and eventually thrive.

The impoverished, particularly those widowed or orphaned, and the incapacitated, ailing or injured, are generally regarded as the “proper” recipients of charity. The people who believe they “cannot” support themselves and believe they lack, or choose not to earn, or request outside means of support sometimes become beggars, directly soliciting aid from strangers encountered in public.

Some groups regard charity as being restricted to members from within their particular group, like family and friends. While other groups consider it charity to give to others outside their immediate group.

Most forms of charity are concerned with providing basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, healthcare and shelter, but other actions may be performed as charity: visiting the imprisoned or the homebound, ransoming captives, educating orphans, even contributing to meaningful social movements. Contributions to causes that benefit the less fortunate indirectly, such as donations to fund cancer research, are also considered charity.

If and when you do become inspired to contribute to a charitable cause, it is prudent to predetermine the charitable model you plan on giving to, or through. Would you love to contribute or donate as a benefactor to a charitable conglomerate, which then secondarily contributes further to ever greater numbers of specific recipients? Would you love to contribute or donate to a charitable organization which further contributes to growing numbers of recipients? Would you love to contribute to a charitable organization which offers microfinance loans to select entrepreneurial recipients?

Or, would you love to contribute or donate directly to recipients of your choosing? This is becoming more common due to insufficient transparency within many charities. Would you love to contribute directly to recipients as a microfinance loan provider? Would you love to provide money for a recipient’s work and support them while they do their work as a catalyst for their individual growth and self-sufficient development? Regardless of the charitable model you choose, it is wise to sort out the actual needy from those who fraudulently claim a need for charity.

Historically, wealthier individuals have given more in total, but often at a lower percentage of their overall income, while less wealthy individuals have given less in total, but often at a higher percentage of their overall income.

If and when you become inspired to contribute to others, also become acutely aware of the challenges or possible downsides that your charitable contribution could initiate in the recipients. It is wise not to become overly compassionate, sympathetic and sentimental with the assumed suffering of others and exaggerate their need and then rob them of any responsibility and inner fulfillment for transcending their current and possibly self-imposed positions.

Make sure your donated charitable contributions do not rob your recipients of their dignity, accountability, responsibility and productivity and undermine their inner power to contribute self-sufficiently to themselves and their society. Make sure your contributions do not prolong the reasons for the recipient’s current position of poverty or need. And make sure you do not tyrannize your recipients, or rule or treat them despotically or cruelly due to their assumed less fortunate or disadvantaged position. Instead, ensure that your contributions are truly serving the recipients in the long haul and in some way expanding their awareness and potential.

Major city streets can be sprinkled with swarms of beggars who try to awaken your pity in possibly the most shameless and sometimes annoying manner as you pass them by. They may expose their tattered clothing, disgusting wounds and deformities with signs announcing their sickly diseases and desperation. When you donate largely to charitable institutions, you may become spared of such unfulfilling and impertinent begging antics and this may motivate this particular indirect third-party model of charity.

Ensure that your chosen charity organization is truly charitable and not one demonstrating inequitable self-interests. Ensure it regards its contributions not as a business matter, making bargains with the poor, thereby allowing you to contribute to this so-called benevolent institution in a way that you do not have to be troubled any further, and that the recipients are bound thereby to stay in their dusty holes and not irritate your tender nerves by exposing their miseries to you openly or directly.

When you feel compelled to be charitable, keep your objective reason and make sure you are not being guilt-tripped into contributing to every so-called “worthy” cause. Think twice before you contribute, particularly over the phone in cold-call telemarketer situations. Be proactive and identify the charitable cause you deeply care most about by doing research to find out how the truest charities carry out their type of service or work. Keep in mind that it may be more impactful to make a few carefully screened large contributions instead of many small ones.

It may be wise to self-govern your charitable impulses, for your compassionate acts can possibly become toxic if and when they strip recipients of their dignity and foster unhealthy dependency rather than empowerment. It is wise to know the distinction between their crisis need and their chronic need. Their crisis need may demand a true emergency intervention —like disaster relief after hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, droughts, fires or earthquakes. Their chronic need may require education and development to assist them in putting their lives back together and empower them.

If you address a crisis need with emergency intervention, lives may be saved. If you address a chronic need with emergency response, recipients may become further disempowered and discouraged. When your charity responds to chronic need with one-way giving, it can end up dispiriting the recipients they want to help.

One-way charitable contributions may prompt appreciation the first time they are offered. But repeated charitable donations can create a downward spiral — from anticipation, to expectation, to entitlement, to dependency.  Likewise, paternalistic top-down charity to the poor, rather than alongside the poor, can feed condescending feelings of superiority by the contributor and create resentment among the recipients. You can mean well, and you may want to be of true service, but you can insult those who just appear to be less fortunate, without realizing it.

For instance, purchasing toys for children and delivering them at the holiday season can temporarily make the children respond with excitement. Their mothers may become gracious, but their fathers may disappear because they could not bear to have their economic impotence and inability to provide exposed in front of their families.

Instead of one-sided donations, it might be wiser to simply see about hiring and engaging the parents according to their true, most resourceful skills so they can become productive and self-sufficient enough to be able to pay for their own children’s toys directly with dignity, accountability, responsibility and productivity.

It is often wise to focus on the assets already present within the recipients instead of assessing their needs, making assumptions and looking for resources outside the recipients to meet those presumed needs.

It is also wise to see recipients as people with resources, talents and abilities more than simply those with need. There are special hidden or revealed talents in every recipient. Every individual has something of value to contribute. Inspiring them to discover their talents and letting them emerge may be more contributive than rescuing those assumed to be incapable and in desperation.

It is further wise to consider reciprocity more than only one-way giving. At every level of humanity, each recipient has a unique capacity, resource and skill. Giving recipients the opportunity to participate in sustainable fair exchanges is often the most fruitful. One-way giving is primarily for crises. It is unwise to do for recipients what they have the capacity to do for themselves, for this can weaken and entitle them. It serves recipients most when you find ways of legitimate sustainable fair exchange. Empowering them by hiring, lending and/or investing in their unique skills, talents or knowledge is often more impactful. Consider only offering gifts sparingly as incentives to reinforce their achievements. It is essential to create honorable and sustainable fair exchanges that breed dignity, so contribute, lend or invest in a way that brings about accountability. Let your yearning to provide humanitarian and philanthropic charity make the true difference you would love to make.

Investing in selected recipients can open up new business opportunities and help the economy. It is respectful to make money with the poor more than for or on the less fortunate. Equitable exchanges are more lasting, so put the interests of the poor on par with or above your own self-interests or the interests of even the charitable organization. Clear consciousness and more sustainable economic outcomes arise from equitable exchanges or transactions.

Be self-reflective and aware of your unconscious motives or agendas – those compensating for guilt of the past or hidden agendas of your future. Listen and look carefully for spoken and unspoken hidden needs in yourself and the recipients. If your charitable contributions are driven purely by elevating your social status and affirming your existing hierarchy of power as a master or hero, it can lead to tragic hubris outcomes.

Humanitarian or philanthropic public projects that empower and develop recipients can at times be more meaningful than targeted charities that affect the select few. Requesting hard objective evidence of the true contribution provided behind your charitable contributions is prudent. Assure that your contributions truly count. Sometimes considering scientific research, corporate or even government policy initiatives, and not just the nonprofit sector, can assist society in deeply meaningful ways.

Before selecting your charity, it is also prudent to take advantage of charity watchdog groups that screen out charities that may be less than credible. Investigating your chosen charity and assuring that it truly contributes responsibly and efficiently on its mission and is not wasteful, poorly managed, tax evading or fraudulent (through nepotism, deception, conflicts of interest, inside compensations) is being responsible. Check to see if your charity is completely transparent and upfront about how it will spend your money. Do your due diligence and look into the charity’s finances, and once you contribute, follow up to find out how your money was spent. Is the charity contributing to what it claims or does it have unreasonable administrative, operative, overhead and first, second or third-party fund raising costs? Ensure that the lion’s share of your contribution is not being diverted to a for-profit telemarketing business or for other questionable expenses.

About The Author

Dr. John Demartini

Dr. John Demartini, one of the world's leading authorities and educators on human behavior and leadership development, is the founder of the Demartini Institute, which offers an extensive curriculum of more than 76 courses on self-development, life mastery and leadership. Demartini's knowledge is the culmination of 46-plus years of cross-disciplinary research, and he travels internationally full time, addressing audiences in media, seminars and consultations. He is the author of more than 40 self-development books, including the bestseller The Breakthrough Experience, and he has produced numerous audio CDs, DVDs and online programs discussing financial and business mastery, relationship development, health and healing, the art of communication and inspiring education and leadership. Demartini has been featured in film documentaries such as “The Secret,” “The Opus,” and “Oh My God” alongside Ringo Starr, Seal and Hugh Jackman. He has also shared the stage with influential educators Stephen Covey, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Steve Wosniak, Tony Fernandez and Donald Trump. He has appeared on “Larry King Live,” “The Early Show” and “Wall Street,” as well as in the publications Shape, Leadership, Success, Prestige, Entrepreneur and O. For editorial consideration, please contact [email protected](dot)com.

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