For much of history, giving happened directly. You saw a neighbor in need, and reached into your pocket to offer what you could to help; or perhaps a friend told you about a worthy idea, and you banded together to build a new community center or dig a well. Service and generosity are as old as time, and have historically been interwoven with relationship and community.
But the world has gotten bigger, and the non-profit sector has professionalized with hierarchies, expert practitioners, and thousands upon thousands of distinct organizations. Giving is still heartfelt and beautiful, but I don’t know a single non-profit leader who isn’t actively trying to recreate the authentic connection and relationships that direct, person-to-person giving creates so naturally.
“Big” philanthropy has offered major wins for society in ways that direct giving cannot; yet, I can’t help but wonder if there are some drawbacks to professionalizing the provenance of doing good. Have we created a perception that it is only experts that can make a difference in the world? Have we unconsciously built a system that elevates organizations over the civic engagement of individuals?
The future belongs to all of us, just as we belong to each other. I’ve written before about my belief that our model of direct giving to early-stage changemakers acts as an antidote to civic apathy. In truth, we all have a place in this ecosystem of philanthropy: organizations of all sizes, individual grassroots volunteers, and everyone in between.
As in any ecosystem, diversity will be our strength.