Today we have a guest post from Jeremy Beer, author of The Philanthropic Revolution: An Alternative History of American Charity.
Few people, it seems, give much thought to the differences between “philanthropy” and “charity,” or why it is that the former is now much the preferred term over the latter, especially among those who wish to sound serious and sophisticated. But as it turns out, historically and conceptually, philanthropy and charity refer to different things—or more precisely, to different logics.
This difference is concisely demonstrated in a recent article on the Fast Company website headlined “This Homelessness Organization Says You Should Stop Donating to the Homeless.” This piece manages to tick the boxes of virtually all of the arguments by which philanthropy’s advocates have been making their case—and denigrating “mere” charity—for nearly two centuries now.
Donors, we are told by the Weingart Center’s representatives, are essentially perpetuating the problem of homelessness by caring for people on the streets. They are making a “phenomenally bad investment of tax dollars.” They are not acting rationally in their own self-interest. They are too guided by emotion rather than hard financial calculations. They are not getting at the root causes of homelessness.