The Differences Between Charity and Philanthropy

This blog post originally appeared on Steve Moye’s website.

When it comes to giving back to one’s community, charity and philanthropy often get confused as interchangeable terms. To some, the differences between the two realms often seem small and insignificant. However, upon digging deeper into the history of both of these acts, it is clear they could not be more mutually exclusive.

With that in mind, let us explore the true difference between charity and philanthropy.

The Difference Between Charity and Philanthropy

Charity is aiding people who need help through money, goods, or services. Charity is often based on an authentic yet visceral response to an individual, family, or community’s problems. A charity offers immediate yet short-term solutions in response to a crisis.

Philanthropy is a strategic investment in economic aid, capital, long-term intervention, and education. Steve Gunderson, former president of the Council on Foundations Charity, calls it “rebuilding.” Philanthropy can be a tool to create long-lasting and effective change in the lives of individuals and communities.

Perhaps we might view charity and philanthropy in light of an old analogy. Charity might be giving an individual a fish, and philanthropy teaching an individual how to fish. Which is the superior strategy? Both have their uses. In extreme and immediate need, a fish may make all the difference and allow the individual to find the energy and optimism needed to pull through a crisis. In the long-term, it may make strategic sense to raise money for a dock, a boat, and a fishing pole to provide self-sufficiency.

Coming Together to Create Change

Charitable contributions can be personal and immediately effective: A pancake breakfast held to help a family rebuild after a fire; a garage sale to aid in sending a special needs child to camp; collecting warm coats to distribute during the winter. Charity is something that individuals can contribute to with a relatively modest donation and meet a concrete and time-specific goal.

Philanthropy is often seen as the territory of the very wealthy. Famous philanthropists have built hospital wings, libraries, and contributed to their alma maters, and they are celebrated with naming ceremonies, plaques, and public approbation. However, there is a new philosophy towards philanthropic enterprises, a way of creating community and change by working together and contributing individual micro-donations that add up to significant sums and by volunteering skills to organizations that are working towards affecting societal, political, and environmental change that increases the greater public good for all.