Bruce DeBoskey of the DeBoskey Group.

What’s Love Got to Do with Effective Philanthropy?

Bruce DeBoskey of the DeBoskey Group.

The term “philanthropy” is a combination of two ancient Greek words: “philos” meaning “love” in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing and enhancing; and “anthropos” meaning “human being” in the sense of our common humanity. A philanthropist is a person who expresses love of humanity through charitable efforts.

Every year, hundreds of articles are published on the subject of philanthropy. Writers, including me, devote their words to help philanthropists become more strategic and effective, designing processes and measuring outcomes with business-like rigor and accuracy. Terms like “return on social investment,” “venture philanthropy” and “measurable impact” are commonly used to guide modern philanthropic initiatives.

All of this effort to make philanthropy more impactful has led to many great innovations in the field and has resulted in some remarkable outcomes. What is missing in this approach, however, is recognition that the business and scientific methodologies alone are not enough.

The emotional component of philanthropy is, according to philanthropic adviser Peter Karoff, the “secret sauce” of giving that enables philanthropists to achieve greater outcomes for themselves and the people and causes they seek to help.

Philanthropic love, much like other forms of love, consists of several key elements which, when brought to the philanthropic planning table, help ensure a more effective outcome:

  • Compassion — Compassion is the empathy for, and the desire to alleviate the suffering of, others. Donnela Meadows, a pioneering environmental scientist and author, wrote, “The world can never pass through the adventure of bringing itself to sustainability if people do not view themselves and others with compassion.”
  • Respect — Donors must have respect for the people or causes they hope to help. In this context, respect means not imposing the donor’s will upon a gift recipient but, rather, engaging in deep listening about what is needed and what will best serve to accomplish mutually agreed-upon goals.
  • Trust — Philanthropy requires a high degree of trust in the integrity and goodwill of others. It is imperative to identify good partners in the social sector, and then, as in any partnership, have the confidence in them to follow through on their commitments and achieve their potential.
  • Passion — Identifying causes about which you are passionate is a key element of philanthropic love. The antonym of passion is apathy. Anyone who is apathetic about the community’s problems cannot be an effective philanthropist.
  • Integrity — Karoff writes: “Integrity is completeness and consistency of purpose, process and practice. Its soundness is based upon the moral principles of virtue, honesty and sincerity.”

Although methodology, measurement and metrics are essential for philanthropy to improve the lives of others, they cannot stand alone. Ensuring that philanthropy also includes the magic, power and impact of the qualities of philanthropic love helps to ensure that the outcomes, for the philanthropist and the beneficiary, will be maximized.

In the words of Beatle Paul McCartney, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

This post originally appeared in the September 23, 2012 edition of the Denver Post.  Reposted by the author.

About Bruce DeBoskey

Bruce DeBoskey, J.D., is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working across the U.S. with The DeBoskey Group to help families, businesses and foundations design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans. He is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and workshops on philanthropy. More information at or @BDeBo.

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  1. What an important and timely article! The sages refer to Tzedaka as the mitzvah par excellence for many reasons. One of course is as Mr. DeBoskey so beautifully expressed, is that it actualizes the commandment which is considered the basis of the entire Torah, 'Love your friend as yourself.' Especially around Sukkot, when G-d embraces us in clouds of glory, are we enjoined to embrace others with expressions of loving-kindness. When I first came to Boulder I was very moved by a talk that Eric Bernstein gave about the importance of teaching Jewish youth to be charitable. As I, G-d willing, approach my 69th birthday on Sukkot, I have lived to see Bar-Bat mitzvah celebrations move from receiving opulent gifts to more and more tzedaka projects. Indeed, the sages teach that the final redemption will occur primarily through tzedaka. The last Rebbe of Lubavitch in fact encouraged every Jewish child from the earliest age to have a tzedaka box in his or her room, and get used to putting coins in everyday. When heart and hand can be taught to work together, the magic, power, and impact, as Mr. DeBoskey put it, are infinite.

  2. Great article, Bruce! I hope you, and others, will join us at the Boulder JCC on Oct 14th from 1-4 pm as we begin to teach more about tzedakah and Jewish philanthropy to the next generation!