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Philanthropist Is a Lofty Title: Are You One?

By Mark V. Ewert - May 25, 2016 at 6:24PM

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Regardless of the amount, it takes more than just donating money to transform your contributions from "charitable giving" to "philanthropy."

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen is the author of Giving 2.0 and the MOOC (massively open online course) of the same name. She is also the wife of Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape and coauthor of a widely used web browser. Here is what she says about what makes a philanthropist:

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, Source: Flickr user TechCrunch

In my view, a philanthropist is anyone who gives anything -- time, money, experience, skills or networks -- in any amount, to create a better world.

Well, that was easy. It means we all qualify. But could that really be it? Clearly not, if we need the guidance of the Giving 2.0 book and course. What do other people think?

Steven Crandall, author of the thoughtful and useful Roadmap for Philanthropy series available on the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors website quotes Corinne Updegraff Wells, 20th century author:

When anyone gives anything with good heart, he or she becomes a philanthropist -- a conduit and a catalyst for love.

Although this harkens back to the word's late Latin source in meaning, philanthropos, from phil- (love) + anthropos (human being), I think that in the 21st century, we can distinguish between a charitable giver and a philanthropist.

Most Americans are charitable givers. The 2014 World Giving Index estimated that 68% of Americans make charitable donations. Although there is no accepted distinction between people who make charitable gifts and philanthropists, I would hazard a guess that the percentage of people who consider themselves to be philanthropists is quite low. Here is how I would distinguish them:

A charitable giver is someone who gives financial resources to someone else or an organization to either preserve or change things in hopes of making them better.

A philanthropist is someone who learns about preservation or social change, creates a focus for their giving, makes a plan to give, carries it out, and tries to understand the effects of their actions.

Notice that I have not suggested a minimum contribution amount at which one joins the philanthropist elite. I believe that people who are serious about giving are active learners, limit their efforts (to what they think matters), use strategy, and assess impact. That's all it takes, although that's a lot more than making a donation. Even Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen adds to her definition by saying:

This is not how we once thought about philanthropy. The word used to conjure up something rather passive -- sitting down and writing checks.

So philanthropist, are you one? If not, start by creating a focus for your giving and learn what you can about that focus area. That is a good start to your plan, and the title of philanthropist.

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