Friday, September 11, 2015

Getting Philanthropy Right

Philanthropic activity has to consider the interests and the needs of both the givers and the recipients.

There are any number of reasons that someone may want to take part in philanthropic activities, everything from genuine compassion to wanting to feel better about themselves. But what all givers without exception will want, is for the resources to reach the intended recipients and not get used to pay for charity executives' BMWs or get lost on impassable African roads. Over the long term, they will want the recipients to become self-sustaining and rise out of abject poverty without there being any more of a need to give them resources.

On the recipient end, there is a need for two kinds of economic contributions. One is one-time aid for emergencies such as famines and earthquakes. Another is in ongoing economic growth where they rise out of poverty. The latter situation involves providing technological know-how and economic opportunity. There is need for emergency aid, and there is need for sustained prosperity; and the approaches to the two will vastly differ.

What is the best way to match up the needs of the givers and the needs of the recipients? Does a Christmas-time feeding of the homeless makes life for the homeless easier? When are the people likely to feel generous, and for how long and under what outcomes are people likely to remain generous? And how to make this generosity do as much good as it can?

Generally people are happy to help out in emergencies. But, lacking sustained economic improvement, they do not remain generous for long. Eventually they expect the recipients to take responsibility for themselves and build working economies. With domestic recipients, they expect them to find employment and rise out of the underclass through their own efforts. 

Philanthropic efforts need to consider the needs of both the givers and the recipients. A one-time desire to help out over Christmas holidays does not do much for the people who need the food, when they have to forage the rest of the year. This fulfils the needs of the giver, but not the receiver. Nor can large populations and healthy adults be dependent for a long time on aid. This fulfils the needs of the receiver, but not the giver. Rather the efforts must be arranged in the way that works for both the giver and the receiver; and that means, genuinely helping people in a meaningful way and then supporting them toward economic independence.

It is by understanding the needs of both sides of the process that philanthropy can finally be done right.


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