I searched on Google images today for pictures that depicted the notion of “philanthropy”. Unsurprisingly I found a common theme among most of the images which were sets of hands. Now I will not discount the diversity in the manner in which these hands were depicted. Some showed fingers knit together and intertwined around the earth (comradery)…others cupped coins (monetary means), cut out paper hearts (sympathy not to be confused with empathy), or soil from the earth (resources). One of the most common images and most off putting were those of hands reaching from some undefinable abyss up toward an image of money or a nothingness that screamed “charity”. Spending several years in graduate school for Community Psychology (Finally at dissertation stage YAS!) I have extensively sought out to learn the difference between empowerment and philanthropy. Often these two concepts are synonymous with one another. Buzz words that organizations utilize to demonstrate “giving back”.
I say that these two concepts are indeed vastly different. Philanthropy as defined by Google is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes” whereas to Empower is to “give (someone) the authority or power to do something”. The key word here is POWER. Philanthropic endeavors tend to start with someone else being perceived as “less than” whereas initiatives focused on empowering individuals perceive them as capable agents (not victims) that simply need to be guided toward resources and tools.
I could ramble on about the loads of theory and research studies that discuss this difference but I won’t. This blog is not meant to be another academic sounding board that values quantifiable findings over the importance of building relationships. Instead I will offer this…any organizations that seek to create or reform their divisions dedicated to social responsibility should consider conversations before writing checks. Understand that empathy and sympathy do not equate the same. Being solely numbers driven does not take into account impact. People are not products or tokens to be paraded around to illustrate your charitable donations. Instead consider how you might revise your efforts to be curators of civic innovation. If you’d like to know more about how you can accomplish this shoot me a message on LinkedIn and hire me after I graduate in 2015 🙂