Friday, June 23, 2006

Philanthropy and its common perceptions

Out of all the things that continue to amaze me day in and day out (believe me there are tons of items in this list), the way people perceive and carry out philanthropic causes is probably at the top of the list. The other day I was discussing with my wife about the orphanage that our apartment residents support. She told me that every month, all the waste newspaper, old clothes, donated foodstuff etc is picked up by the orphanage thanks to the efforts of a couple of enterprising and generous ladies who coordinate these activities. I think that today, being philanthropic means:
- Being generous with donating your money and supporting charitable causes by donating liberally - Bill Gates is admired as he donates the largest amount of money.
- The amount of donations you make should be a considerable part of your income or net worth. If your are a millionare, a few thousands should be nothing much to give away. Otherwise, beware!

I have a slightly different view:
- Your lifestyle and expenses have nothing to do with the amount you put aside for charitable causes. I know of people who religiously donate a fixed part of their income every year and still have a very lavish lifestyle. I also know of people who donate a similar part of their income and have a frugal lifestyle. I do not see any difference in these two sets of people.
- Its is infinitely easier to donate than to do something that is sustainable. Coming to the orphanage thing, its much easier for us folks to donate clothes, food and newspapers rather than pick up a couple of children and teach them how to read and write. If you measure the amount of money donated versus the outcome, I like to believe that a person who did not donate a cent but taught two children the 3Rs is making a far larger impact than one who donated a large amount of money. You can argue that time + effort = money. Still giving away money is the easier thing to do.
- Its sad that the society admires people on the basis of the total value of their donations - I think its much more meaningful to look at the net result, rather than the amount. It is in this respect that the missionary sisters of Calcutta or other people who undertake painful efforts stand out. It is much easier to throw money than making an effort to make it meaningful.

1 comment:

Nanda said...

Yes, this is something I think about a lot too. I agree with you on some of it but not all. I also think that donating money is easier than actually doing something *sustainable*. But most of us do not have the time or motivation to do it. One important point I would like to add is that even though giving money is easy, it is these donations that support the charitable activities of more motivated people. I look at it as a symbiotic relationship. The money giver needs such organizations to give money and feel good. The motivated philanthropists need sustained donations to achieve their end goals.