Before You Write That Check…

Here we are, almost to the end of the year. Decorating is well underway, and shopping and wrapping are daily activities. Our “To Do” lists grow longer and longer as we hurtle toward the holidays. And with the holidays comes the never-ending list of “opportunities” to give to those in need. After all, who can ignore the steady “ding-ding-ding” of the bell ringer in front of the mall? Or the thought of a child having nothing to open on Christmas morning? We all want to be charitable, right?

Before you write that check (or, for the digital experts, click that “donate” button), pause for a minute to consider the donation you are about to make. Are you being “charitable?” or “philanthropic?” You might be thinking those terms are interchangeable. To some, they are. A quick Google search will provide you with a plethora of opinions. Not to be outdone, I’m here to share mine.

Charity is, to me, the donation of money or stuff (water bottles, food, clothing, etc.) in response to a crisis or a heartfelt plea. We all feel compassion for the starving child on the poster, or the flea-bitten dog, or the photo of the long line of unfortunate souls shuffling along at the soup kitchen. We give to those causes because we “want to do our part,” or because “we have so many blessings,” or really, because stuffing a few dollars in a jar for “those people” makes us feel (at least temporarily) that we are doing something to ease their plight.

As a nation, we are very charitable. According to Charity Navigator ( an estimated $390.05 billion was given to charitable organizations in 2016. Of that 15% went to education-based charities,12% to human services, and a whopping 32% ($122.94 billion) went to religious groups.

What, then, is philanthropy? Is it a grand gesture by a Hollywood star? A huge gift from a family foundation? A donation that gets a big splash on Facebook and in the media? Yes, it can be all of those things. But in my opinion, it is not the size of the gift that makes it philanthropic. To me, philanthropy is a strategic and sacrificial gift given with the expectation of facilitating long-term results or lasting change. Philanthropy is not a knee-jerk response. It is not a quick fix. It requires discernment, wisdom, and above all, faith. It is a down payment for sometimes yet-unseen results with the reasonable belief that the results can (and will!) be achieved.

I’m not suggesting you halt your charitable giving. Spare change in a jar or small bills dropped in a firefighter’s boot still have merit and benefit many worthy causes. But if you want to have an even bigger impact, consider how you can also become philanthropic. It might mean you narrow down your giving to a select few organizations or churches who demonstrate their ability to be good stewards. It might mean you commit to monthly giving, which provides a predictable funding stream. It might mean you look at giving not as something you do to make yourself feel good (an inward-focus), but instead as something you do to ensure the sustainability of organizations you see effecting real change (an outward-focus). Whatever it looks like for you, do it because you WANT to, and because you CAN, and because you are CALLED to fulfill this purpose.