By Tifany R. Boyles
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
In the past few years, philanthropy has been under severe scrutiny. With the mix of politics and philanthropy in the 2016 election and books surfacing such as Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas, more criticism has surfaced. This has created thoughtful conversations on how we can improve the sector as well as extreme calls for dissolving philanthropy entirely.
Amidst this evolution, philanthropic evangelists, like myself, are waving the “pause” flag. We must hold on to the good while reforming the imperfect. In this series “The Power of Philanthropy,” I focus on the indelible value the social sector offers society. While many of us concede that it creates unique social change, other lesser-known benefits also exist, such as movement building within civil society and fostering innovation. In this article, we look inward to unveil the benefits philanthropy has in our own lives.
Philanthropy isn’t meant to benefit the philanthropist
As we know, the purpose of philanthropy is to serve others. As defined by the seminal book Understanding Philanthropy, Robert Payton and Michael Moody define philanthropy as “voluntary action for the public good.” Payton and Moody spend significant time defining “the public good” to make it clear that this definition of philanthropy does not include personal gain or even familial benefit.
We must preserve the purpose of philanthropy – to create public good rather than personal gain. When personal gain is the donor’s motivation, that is when philanthropy loses its purpose and can cause harm. While the purpose of philanthropy is not to benefit one’s self, there is no question that giving has indirect and incredible benefits to the generous.
While there are many personal benefits of philanthropy, here are a few of my favorites.
Philanthropy is an expression of values
I remember once saying to my friend, “It’s not who we are deep down, but our actions that define us.” She said, “Isn’t that from Batman?” Busted. Katie Holmes’ character did say that to Christian Bale in 2005. Coincidentally, this was about the time I also fell in love with philanthropy. Philanthropy is belief in action. What could be better than “putting your money where your mouth is” as the saying goes? Phil Buchanan wrote, in Giving Done Right, that … “individual givers alike see the impact of their philanthropy as among their most important legacies (second only – and not always second – to their kids and grandkids), and they don’t want to squander it.” The idea of creating a “legacy” is very common in the social sector because people want to live beyond their limited lifetime and to do great things for decades if not centuries.
The Women Give 2018: Transmitting Generosity to Daughters and Sons report published by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute affirms that “parents have the ability to influence children while they live in the same household, and children can carry this behavior into adulthood.” And, “adult children – both sons and daughters – whose parents give to charity are more likely to give to charity.”  Women Give 2013 examined how talking and role-modeling make a difference in children’s philanthropy. The study found that “talking to children about charity has a greater impact on children’s giving than role-modeling alone.”
There is a saying in Jewish tradition, “As my parents planted for me, so do I plant for those who will come after me.” How many of us wish to pass our values on to our children? Philanthropy has proven to be a centuries-old method of transmitting values to generations and creating a lasting legacy beyond one’s lifetime.
We become more educated when we invest in change
Supporting causes or specific organizations inspire us to learn more about social issues and the approaches to resolving them. Most nonprofit organizations go beyond trying to achieve their mission and also invest significant dollars in communication efforts that educate their stakeholders and create awareness. The 2020 Nonprofit Communication Trends Survey states that nonprofit organizations invest between five to 15 percent of their budget on educational materials, on average. Thought leadership has become a lauded method for creating positive social change within the social sector. And, thanks to philanthropy, many of us are listening.
With generations being nicknamed the “selfie generation” and social media perpetuating narcissistic behaviors, philanthropy compels just the opposite. Taking an interest in social causes inspires us to educate ourselves beyond our personal network and to consider lives beyond our own.
Philanthropy creates happier, healthier humans
During an interview on this subject, Dean Amir Pasic of the Lilly School of Philanthropy commented on the health benefits of philanthropy. Pasic said, “In an environment where people are more critical of power, exercising your voice and living your values reduces stress and increases well-being.” He suggested readings by Professor Sara Konrath, who has published several studies on the positive health effects of giving and volunteering. In one co-authored report with Stephanie Brown, titled “The Effects of Giving on Givers,” they found that “volunteers report more positive affect, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being, and less depression compared to non-volunteers…,” “older adults who volunteer experience a significantly reduced mortality risk several years later,” and “giving social support to others is associated with higher psychological well-being such as more happiness, increased self-esteem, and less loneliness.” 
Let’s try a less scientific approach to this point. Picture someone you know who lived a long, healthy, happy life. Was this person selfish or generous? The healing waters of philanthropy are undeniable. Caring about others, and acting on this love, is medicinal.
As we know, the purpose of philanthropy is to benefit others. Many have written more on the personal benefits of giving back such as Sharon Bush and Charitable Aid Foundation. Some critics use this as a case to argue that there is no such thing as a selfless act. To them I say, when you throw a rock in the river, you may or may not hit your target, but you will always create ripples. While the ripples were not the intended target, are they not also beautiful? The same is true for philanthropy. Perhaps your target is to alleviate poverty, to feed a family, or to increase social justice. And, during your journey, you become more educated, you find a meaningful community, and you teach your children about your beliefs. While it wasn’t the target, it sure is noteworthy.
Tifany Boyles owns a philanthropic consulting company, Red Philanthropy. She has previously worked with corporate foundations, such as Western Union Foundation, multi-lateral NGOs, such as UNICEF, and social enterprises such as Street Business School, to foster an environment in which women and children can achieve equality and overcome injustice. Tifany holds a bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in philanthropic studies, concentrating on impact investing for gender equity, from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. She is also certified in “Women’s International Health and Human Rights” through Stanford’s Center on Social Innovation and in “Women in Innovation” from Yale’s School of Management.
 (Buchanen, 2019)