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TV hero spotlights tension in how we “do” philanthropy

July 23, 2009

Controversy about the character Teddy Rist portrays in the new TV show, “The Philanthropist,” points to a key point of tension in the increasingly professionalized world of philanthropy, according to a recent op-ed by William A. Schambra in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. When Rist wants to “do” philanthropy, he wants to be personally involved and he recognizes that his professional helpers cannot match the level of his passion for the issues he really cares about.

“For all our insistence that giving has become ever more complex, demanding, sophisticated, and professionalized,” Chambers argues, “simply hiring experts to do it for us may not be enough to satisfy the human charitable impulse.”

People want to know that what they are doing makes a difference, as we see every day at the Community Foundation. They can’t always do that by reading statistics. Instead, they thrive on making site visits, arranged by our donor services staff. Even the most anonymous of givers, who wants no public credit for his or her generosity, longs to get up close and personal with the nonprofit organizations that do the good work they support and with the clients who benefit from their gifts and grants.

Not every giving person has to suffer the deep personal loss that seems to trigger Rist’s charitable impulse in the show. But our experience is that people give to the Community Foundation — and to philanthropic causes of all kinds — not because they are getting a tax break but because they truly want to help other people.

As Chambra suggests, “Perhaps charity in general must always arise from and ultimately return to this sort of direct, face-to-face encounter with human brokenness and need, and the connection it builds across the most impenetrable of barriers. Perhaps the elaborate institutional edifice of modern philanthropy ultimately rests upon this most personal and intimate of human bonds.”

National standards for professional practices are always important, and your Community Foundation is proud to be part of leading the field in this area. But we recognize that the strength of philanthropy, charity, giving — whatever you call it — comes from a desire to make life better for others, and that is ultimately always a personal call to action.

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