Philanthropic Effectiveness: What “Making a Difference” Really Means
By Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D
Effective philanthropy can mean doing good and “making a difference” at different levels – the individual level, the community level, and the systems level. Each level requires a different kind of approach, and all levels must be addressed if we’re to make progress with hunger, nutrition, and public health issues. gnity is kind of an old fashioned concept and isn’t talked about much. But we all know what it feels like to be robbed of it, don’t we?
Is your personal philanthropy effective? Are you“making a difference”?
When you see a panhandler on the street, there are several ways you can make a difference.
You can make a difference at the individual level
That panhandler on the corner? You could take him home, cook him a meal, talk to him, listen to him. Or, if you didn’t want to get that close but still wanted to help, you could simply give him money for a decent meal. That is what he asked for, after all. Or if you didn’t want to deal with him at all but felt sympathetic to his plight, you could send some money to the neighborhood emergency food shelf. That all counts as effective philanthropy.
You can make a difference at the community level
Or, from a different perspective, let’s remember where food comes from – along a long and complex supply chain, changing hands frequently, in one community after another, from farm to table. If different communities could be more engaged, the supply chain could be shorter and with fresher food. If people grew some of their own food, they could also be learning about cooking and nutrition, becoming healthier and more productive. Maybe you could show kids how to cook something you know how to cook, and they could get other kids involved, and older folks, and new arrivals, and shut-ins, helping neighbors connect and engage productively with local issues. You could make a difference very locally by supporting your community’s gardens or its youth farm and market project. That all counts as effective philanthropy.
You can make a difference at the system level
Or, if you ever spend time packing bags at the food shelf, you get to ask some questions. “How can we get more healthy and nutritious food into the hands of people who are genuinely hurting for food? What can we do differently?” Turns out it’s a complex, multi-layered system – the food supply chain mentioned above – with lots of weak or broken parts. It’s a challenge to fix, but a focus on effective philanthropy could help. You could support your local Alliance for Advocating and Implementing Changes to the Food Distribution System – that’s a fictitious name but try keying such words into your search engine and see what you get. Everyone benefits when smarter giving and investing addresses food deserts, transportation and spoilage issues, and counterproductive farm policies that lead to counterproductive farming practices. That all counts as effective philanthropy.
Effective philanthropy can mean doing good and “making a difference” at different levels – the individual level, the community level, and the systems level. Each level requires a different kind of approach, and all levels must be addressed if we’re to make progress with hunger, nutrition, and public health issues.
In the meantime, let’s not ignore the guy on the corner.
This blogpost was published in an earlier form to this website on February 21, 2011.
How to cite this blogpost: Mayer, Steven E., Effective Philanthropy: Making a Difference. Minneapolis: Effective Communities Project. Downloaded from EffectiveCommunities.com [month, date, year]