Philanthropy; What’s in it for You?

Part 1 of 2

Philanthropy you say? So what’s in it for me?

That’s a question a lot of people ask themselves either consciously or unconsciously and the real answer emboldens some and forces others to flee.

The answer I would propose; is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

There in lies the challenge of true philanthropy; the willingness to do something for someone else when you get absolutely nothing in return.

Saint Paul, one of the earliest writers on philanthropy said it plainly in Romans 15; “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak; and not to please ourselves“. This is a sobering suggestion in today’s manifestation of philanthropy where everywhere we look we see hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by non-profits giving people something to entice them to give something in return. Maybe it’s the concert, the self help book,  the name on the back of the seat or the coffee mug that sits unused in your kitchen cabinet that without which we wouldn’t even consider giving. Think about what might happen if all those gifts we received were given to those that really needed it instead of you and me.

Of course we can’t forget the ultimate entitlement to our Philanthropy that comes by way of the IRS. The “goes without question” tax deduction that without which your non-profit can’t even get mentioned by Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar to name just three. It doesn’t matter that you are doing great work, you are totally transparent, that all the money actually goes to the people who need it and that real transformation is occurring. All that matters is that your organization has the coveted 501C3 tax deductible status because we Philanthropists expect at least that much in return for our sacrifice.

It’s ironic that when we spend our money on virtually anything else we don’t expect a tax deduction but when we do release some of our treasure to those who need it most we watch the post office box closely every April for the confirmation necessary to have Uncle Sam pay a little of what we claim was our act of philanthropic kindness. I’m not suggesting we philanthropists start beating ourselves up for expecting this because we have been taught that it is the lowest common denominator when it comes to charitable giving; however I am asking if maybe we should acknowledge that our compassionate act isn’t quite as compassionate as we might have thought and that maybe we haven’t lived Saint Paul’s call to Philanthropy.

I can’t write about something I haven’t lived so I have to share with you that my philanthropy was rewarded by Uncle Sam for years and even though I didn’t always claim every deduction I was entitled to, when the ones I did claim were added up I sure was glad my government provided an invisible background matching gift program. It wasn’t until I left my career to accomplish something I couldn’t have if I was working and getting paid that I realized after being out of work for 24 months that my continued philanthropic giving would get me Absolutely Nothing. It turns out you can’t claim a tax deduction on zero income.

All this then begs the questions: “Why would I do something for nothing?”

What arguments can be made for being a genuine philanthropist?

What would it take to change today’s paradigm of philanthropy and how can we as proclaimed philanthropists lead the discourse and better still the actions necessary to demonstrate that St. Paul was right when he said Philanthropy is “not to please ourselves‘?

Should we ask philanthropists to step forward and help missions that can’t return a tax write off? Has anyone out there tried? If yes; please share your experience.

Tell us why you give and if and how it would change if you couldn’t write that gift off your taxes.







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