For many, the term “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. First, acts of “charity,” provide what is needed by those who lack resources – a loaf of bread offered to the hungry person, for instance. Second, actions empower people to fix and rise above their problems. This type of philanthropy often works through institutions by educating the hungry to grow their own wheat and make their own bread in a community cooperative, for example.
Based on the writings of Robert Payton, a national grantmaking thought leader and founder of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (now the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy), a distilled definition 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: Leaders discuss their definition of philanthropy.
Another of 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.” Dwight Burlingame, 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.
Michigan’s Learning to Give project adopted a definition of philanthropy for K-12 students to understand 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: Leaders discuss the mission of Learning to Give.
Video:Leaders discuss the Volunteer Centers of Michigan.
Video:Leaders discuss the Michigan Community Foundation Tax Credit.
Video:Leaders discuss the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison.
Video:Leaders discuss the Council of Michigan Foundations.
Video: Dottie Johnson discusses the Grantmaker/Grantseeker Conferences.
Video:Leaders discuss Michigan Campus Compact.
The term foundation, used throughout the essays, means the 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.
The term nonprofit is used throughout the essays to mean the charitable, voluntary organizations that 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 these essays is limited to the activities of the designated 501(c)(3) 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: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:Leaders discuss Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure.
Of particular note is the set of infrastructure organizations: