Philanthropy and Charity - are they different?
May 14th, 2006Having had little or no time to record my thoughts on philanthropy, community issues or news from the Foundation in the past few weeks due to my mom's health and care issues, it is definitely time after a hiatus of three weeks!
Steve Gunderson, President of the Council on Foundations, is visiting Grand Rapids on Thursday, May 18th to speak before the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Rotary Club and Leadership Grand Rapids (LGR). Actually, LGR asked him to speak at their Leadership Conference celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Steve is, as his brief bio notes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Foundations, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit membership association of more than 2,000 grantmaking foundations and corporations. Prior to joining the Council, Steve served as the Senior Consultant and the Managing Director of the Washington office of The Greystone Group, a Grand Rapids based strategic management and communications consulting firm. The Wisconsin native is mostly noted for his serving 16 years in the U.S. Congress, and three terms in the Wisconsin State Legislature..
Steve has much to convey to all of us! He also has a fresh perspective on the difference between philanthropy and charity. Oftentimes, it has been my experience over the past thirty years, that the role of philanthropy is not all that well understood and indeed its value needs to be reinforced. Many hundreds of capital campaigns are conducted throughout our community and most are successful. When the thrill of seeing the building completed and activity generated, then the next exciting campaign begins. Not much time is taken to understand what difference is being made.
Steve recently noted in a letter to the members of the Council on Foundations explaining their new strategic framework:
The first is the fact that we need to create a world environment that understands philanthropy and defines the difference between philanthropy and charity.
The second is that when we enhance the role of philanthropy, we enhance the public good. We have to understand that we are not just about grantmaking but about strategic grantmaking in ways that really do achieve change and benefit the common good. Having said that, we are not governmental surrogates who step in when the public sector backs off. We are architects for social change who achieve common good by addressing the challenges of our time.
This line of thinking is long overdue and aligns with the course that the Grand Rapids Community Foundation is taking. Philanthropy is definitely critical to the long term growth and vitality of our West Michigan community.