Think Philanthropically

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King

It is generally not wise to question the perspective of Coretta Scott King. Nonetheless, a single sentence can frequently benefit from a bit of context. Is compassionate action the ultimate measurement of a community’s greatness or is a community truly great when compassionate action produces measurable change? For those who care deeply about a particular cause there might be a reflex to endorse any act of compassion given that we live in a world where there is no shortage of self-serving narcissism.

The problem with compassionate action on its own is that it is often positioned as the alternative to inaction. There is a third path – and it is one that is arguably more impactful. The third path is characterized by intentionality.  If the word “intentional” had been included before the words “compassionate action”, Coretta Scott King’s words might resonate just a bit better. When compassion is channeled effectively, when we combine human kindness with the right kind of response, it becomes a catalyst for achieving a desired outcome.    

Several readers of this column have asked important questions about how they can be sure that their philanthropic actions are having an impact. This is a universal concern for thoughtful donors. It doesn’t matter if a donor is able to give a few dollars or thousands of dollars, nobody wants their donations to be wasted. When a need is identified, it is important to respond to that need in the best possible way.

As we enter 2023 we face a variety of growing needs. Civil society, charitable and non-profit organizations, will require more support than ever because demand for services continues to rise. How can a donor be both compassionate and intentional? Here are two very basic points to consider. 

First, identify and prioritize a few causes that pull at your heart strings. They could be causes like the environment, the plight of vulnerable and disadvantaged people, underfunded arts programs, or healthcare concerns overseas. Donors simply cannot respond to every request nor should any individual try to provide meaningful support to every important cause. It is far better to identify a limited number of causes and then make direct donations to organizations that are recognized leaders in responding to those causes. Personally, I have identified three main causes of concern and our family provides active support to three or four organizations in each sphere of concern.

Second, be well informed with respect to the organizations you choose to support.  Get to know them and understand how they operate. Technology has given anyone the ability to ask questions of organizations that claim to be responding to a particular cause. A donor should never hesitate to email or phone an organization, even contact the Executive Director. Quality organizations invite scrutiny and are delighted to respond to questions about how they direct donated resources to produce results. Donors can even look up various charities on the Canada Revenue website to determine their legitimacy.

There is a lot to be said for the reflex to be intentionally compassionate. Many of the readers of this column have supported causes for a number of years. It is a privilege to respond, not out of obligation but because giving intentionally is a liberating experience. The year ahead promises new challenges here in Montreal and elsewhere. There are so many important causes that can be supported with small or large gifts.  Let’s continue to build a great community together. Here’s to 2023!      

Sam Watts serves as the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He serves on several non-profit boards and is an appointed member of the National Housing Council of Canada.  He is the author of Good Work…Done Better

Related Posts