For many, “philanthropy” carries a connotation of foundations making grants, or wealthy people giving money to those with fewer resources. Often philanthropy and philanthropists are considered to be the grantmaking or donor characteristic of one facet of the charitable sector. The word “philanthropy” comes to the English language from Greek. In the Greek tradition, the word philanthropy grows from the words “philos” meaning “love” and “anthropos” meaning “man” or “humanity.” Literally, in the original Greek meaning, the word philanthropy is the “love of humanity.”
Every major religion espouses philanthropy, and both the idea of loving humanity and the actions required occur around the world. There is a duality in the outcomes expected from philanthropy. The first are acts of “charity,” providing what is needed by those who lack resources – a loaf of bread offered to the hungry person, for instance. The second are actions that empower people to fix and rise above their problems. This type of philanthropy often works through institutions – educating the hungry to grow their own wheat and make their own bread in a community cooperative, for example.
A distilled definition, based on the writings of Professor Robert Payton, a national grantmaking thought leader and founder of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (now known as the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy) is:
“Giving, serving, and private individual action intended for the common good.”
While the concept of philanthropy is complex, an operational definition provides a framework for understanding the commitment to increase and improve philanthropy in the state of Michigan. This understanding is demonstrated in the actions of the organizations and individuals involved in Michigan’s philanthropic efforts – giving, serving, and advocacy.
Video: Watch leaders discuss their definition of philanthropy.
Another of Mr. Payton’s definitions of philanthropy is “the giving of one’s time, talent, or treasure for the sake of another – or for the common good.” Dr. Dwight Burlingame, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (now Lilly Family School of Philanthropy), has added the concept of intentionality. Whether the outcomes of philanthropic acts end up being for good or ill, an action is philanthropic if its initial intention is for the common good.
The philanthropy definition used in Michigan’s Learning to Give (LTG) project was adopted in order to assure that K-12 students in classrooms teaching LTG lessons would gain an understanding of philanthropy as a private act that can involve: volunteering and donating one’s time; giving money to support nonprofit institutions and charitable acts; and advocating for changes in public policy for systemic and long-term betterment of society – or a combination of all three.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the mission of Learning to Give.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Volunteer Centers of Michigan.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the Council of Michigan Foundations.
Video: Watch Dottie Johnson discuss the Grantmaker/Grantseeker Conferences.
Video: Watch leaders discuss Michigan Campus Compact.
The term foundation is used throughout the essays to mean nonprofit charitable organizations whose primary mission and function is to make grants for philanthropic causes. While other organizations (often created as the fundraising arm of a nonprofit) call themselves foundations, they are not the topic of this history.
Nonprofit is used throughout the essays to mean charitable, voluntary organizations that have received preferred tax treatment under the United States Internal Revenue Service Code number 501(c)(3). While many philanthropic acts occur outside of any organizational structure, the history described in Michigan limits its scope to the activities of the designated 501c3 organizations.
As servant leaders, the individuals responsible for the development of Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure view the sector in its “wholeness” rather than focusing narrowly on any one of its components. To sustain long-term, systemic, statewide philanthropy and achieve the broad view of a better society, it is critical to have human capital (volunteering), financial capital (donations and grants), intellectual capital (research and education), and a commitment to use public policy to advance the betterment of the human condition (acting for the common good).
Video: Watch leaders discuss human capital in philanthropy.
Hence the Michigan philanthropic community, having worked together for over 40 years, developed a strong infrastructure to increase and improve: volunteering; foundation and individual giving; government support/advocacy; and the transference of these traditions to the next generation.
This infrastructure includes a multi-layered and interconnected set of individuals and organizations committed to increasing and improving philanthropy across Michigan. This set of activities includes neighborhood/community/statewide organizations and individual volunteer efforts. Specific programs roughly coordinated to assure a lifelong support for giving and volunteering. The programs range from providing written advice to families about how to raise more altruistic children to the formal national Senior Volunteer Corps providing service opportunities for retirees.
Video: Watch leaders discuss Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure.
Of particular note is the set of infrastructure organizations that includes: