For something that does so much good in the world, the word “philanthropy” seems inadequate to me. I don’t like the word “philanthropy”, and yet my business depends on it. It’s not that I don’t like what the word means; I just find it polarizing. The word connotes extreme wealth when it really just means giving back. It’s from Greek and literally means “love for mankind”. That sounds pretty good, right? Most people can buy into that concept. But over time, we have used the word to refer to super-rich people with names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Gates who have built schools and libraries, endowed academic chairs and funded global efforts to fight AIDS.
The fact is that we’re ALL philanthropists, but very few of us identify with that word. If you help hay an aging neighbors field, add your dollars to the collection tray each weekend, or volunteer in your kid’s school, you’re a philanthropist. You are demonstrating your love of mankind – even if sometimes it’s for less than altruistic reasons. So I prefer to call this “giving” because it’s inclusive, enabling just about anyone to participate. Even the word giving falls short: it doesn’t recognize the terrific feeling the “giver” gets when they see the impact of their contributions. Giving in that case is also receiving. But until I find a word that captures the full impact and includes all kinds of acts, I’m sticking with the word “giving”.
Some other words and phrases I hear used when describing the act of giving include: giving back, helping, donating, paying it forward, doing community service or charity work, social impact investing.
What words do you use when you think about your cause-related efforts? Have you found a word or term that resonates for you?