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Generous giving might be a sign of a selfless heart. Jesus once said, “Where you put your money is the same place you’ll find your heart.” It makes sense. If all my money goes to fund youth mentoring programs in downtown, I may have a selfless heart. The same could be said if I sponsored a Chilean child, funded a rural clinic in Cambodia, and significantly contributed to HIV/AIDS reduction in Zambia.
Giving does say something about my (metaphorical) heart. However, the story better not start and end as a tale all about me. Think about it. If generosity is just a test of the heart that determines how selfish or selfless I am, then philanthropy (love of humanity) becomes philegy (love of myself)--a much less impressive word I made up from its Greek origins. In that scenario I give primarily to prove my selfless heart regardless of the impact. The fact I give proves the quality of my compassionate heart.
Many people have heard the adage that God loves a cheerful giver. Personally I have no qualms with the notion of having joy in one’s generosity. After all it is the slogan of my philanthropic advisory firm, and I think it’s essential that we experience the joy of loving and empowering people rather than simply the compulsion of tax code benefits. However, we must beware of focusing too singularly on the state of the heart. We must not let giving become limited to an exercise in legacy-building. The impact we make or miss because of our giving decisions must be added to the equation.
Here is the bottom line. If giving is only about you proving your character, it’s actually about you. That is not something most of us want to discover if it’s true. But if our giving is about strategically creating credible solutions to social, spiritual, and physical problems that plague humanity, then I think we pass a more important heart test. Our heart moves beyond philegy to philanthropy.
In true philanthropy we are not satisfied with good intentions or generous amounts. Rather the measure of our generosity has become meaningful and lasting impact. Our hearts yearn to change the lived experience of people in need, and nothing less will do. We educate ourselves, seek advice, analyze past giving, and strategize for the next move to ensure that our hearts’ desire to transform lives is realized.
As a philanthropic advisor I have listened to foundations report their giving successes. Sometimes it inspires me, and sometimes I am left hanging. When a Montana funder demonstrates how a few million strategically placed dollars significantly lowered the use of Meth in their state, I get pumped. When some other foundation announces that they have now distributed over $100 million in grants, I have no reaction. The amount of money going out the door passes no test for success in my book. It is the quality of giving not the quantity of giving that makes a real difference in the life of those you seek to support.
In a recent article in the Financial Times, columnist and philanthropic blogger Sean Stannard-Stockton called this concern “the vanguard of philanthropy.” He applauds “individuals who have recognized that philanthropy is not defined by the act of giving but by the achievement of impact. It is both an emotional act of love by the giver as well as a strategic investment in our social fabric” (Read Sean’s full article). So giving generously is only the first step in demonstrating compassionate character. The second step is taking the time and effort to give wisely.
In the end, if having a verifiable impact is the new “heart test” for giving, then that is a test I hope to pass. I do not want to be remembered for making donations. I want to be remembered for making a difference--by the people who experienced the impact of my giving.