I recently came across a thought-provoking article: Is philanthropy driven by altruism, ego, or the human desire to cheat death? The title immediately piqued my interest – at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, we have read and written a lot about what drives philanthropy for women and men. The article reviews some research about why people give to charity to unpack the question – do people give for “good” reasons or for “bad” ones, i.e. altruism or self-interest? The author highlights a few drivers of philanthropy:
- People give because it feels good.
- People give to improve their image.
- People give when they’re asked.
- People give to leave a legacy – what the author refers to as the desire to “cheat death” by giving their lives meaning that will outlast them.
The author concludes that no one explanation paints the whole picture – people are both egoistic and altruistic at once. What struck me was the pessimistic tone of the article, and the cynical commentary on wealthy donors – who contribute a disproportionate amount of total charity in the U.S. The author suggests that the rich give to relieve their guilt; they only give enough to get their name in an annual report or on a building; and they don’t take deep, meaningful action to address society’s ills.
If I saw philanthropy in such a negative light, I would have to find a different career! And I can suggest one way the author might get a different perspective…
Ask yourself: What does a philanthropist look like?
Literally every researcher or philanthropist mentioned in the article is a man – and most are white men. At the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, we are working to change this image. We know that women are more likely to give than men – and this is the case for nearly every charitable subsector. Our most recent study examines how diverse communities, and especially women of color, give to charity. The message is clear: if white men are the only researchers whose work you’re reading, and the only philanthropists you’re paying attention to, you’re missing the whole picture of philanthropy!
Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and others has already answered this author’s question. Women tend to give for more altruistic reasons; men are more likely than women to cite self-interested reasons for giving. Women are less motivated by things like giving levels or putting their name on a building, and are more likely to give anonymously.
As a sector, we should push back on a narrow definition of philanthropy. Highlighting women’s philanthropy, especially giving by women in diverse communities, can change this perception of who a philanthropist is. Together with YWCA Metropolitan Chicago and Facebook, WPI is showcasing stories of diverse women leading through philanthropy. Please watch the video, share, and join the #IAmAPhilanthropist conversation to tell your philanthropy story.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.