Philanthropy is NOT a Dirty Word

I’m on a mission to retake the word philanthropy, and help others embrace their inner philanthropist.

I’ve been working with philanthropists and donors of all levels for a decade. Though their priorities and personalities vary widely, the vast majority would physically recoil at the title--and say “Oh no! I’m not a philanthropist.” And this has been from from people who are giving away $10,000 - $100,000 annually. When people are giving away more than the average person is making in salary per year -- why do they still think of themselves as small time givers?

People are afraid. Afraid of being “outed.” Of being labelled as elitist or a know-it-all. Few progressives are comfortable being known as the 1% or 0.1%. It seems everyone wants to believe they are middle class, and just a “regular Jane/Joe” when in fact many of us are benefitting from a lot of wealth or class privilege. This fear is real for so many people. If you have fear or shame attached to the money you have, why not use it for good? Use it to make the world better, or easier for people who maybe did not have all the privileges and chances you had.

Here’s my take:

1) Giving doesn’t need to be your full-time job for it to be part of your identity. The image of old white men sitting in their mahogany offices writing checks is just as dated as thinking that POTUS needs to be an old white man. The way we can change that narrative is by more women and POC stepping up and being visible as philanthropists. (We need more visible leaders like Agnes Gund and Oprah!)

Here’s what a google image search finds… no surprise, mostly white and male.

2) You don’t have to have it “all figured out” or perfected to identify as a philanthropist. Do you think that Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg aren’t making mistakes in their philanthropy? They don’t let that stop them, and (hopefully) they are learning from their mistakes. We can’t let the perfection stop us, we can only move forward.

3) There is no dollar amount threshold that you need to be giving to call yourself a philanthropist. It doesn’t matter if you are giving away $50 a year, or $5 million. As long as you are giving to further your vision for a better world, you should go ahead and call yourself a philanthropist.

Here’s how I define it: A philanthropist is a person who is giving with purpose: of their time, money, resources, and connections.

It’s not just about dollars. Philanthropy has many pieces, including how you can support an organization by volunteering your time for an event or action. Do you have connections to some policymakers or other decisionmakers that they are trying to sway? Or maybe you know the perfect person who could be their next staffer or intern. Though dollars are what we most often think to donate, it’s possible you have other things to offer organizations too. Get to know some of your top organizations, and find out what they need. It could be something as simple as donating art supplies, to as big and complex as a full website redesign.

It’s about being in community with the organizations you support, and being intentional about where you commit your time, money, resources and connections. You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, but OWN your philanthropy. Own your unique role in the movements you support.

Sarah DeLuca is a money and philanthropy coach focused on social justice funding. If you need help defining the vision for your giving, or finding organizations that match it, sign up for a free 30 minute strategy session with her here:

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