Contrary to popular belief, the word charity is not the same as the term philanthropy. In today’s lexicon, people often use them interchangeably, but the truth is they have very different origins and meanings.
The word charity comes from the Latin word Carus, meaning ‘dear’. This phrase, in turn, eventually evolved into the old French charité, meaning ‘to love or regard someone’. The modern-day English term, charity, is used nowadays to describe an organization that is created exclusively for the purpose of providing help to those in need, either by raising money or through other donated items. As an adjective, charitable can be used to describe people or groups who give their free time and/or valuable resources in order to help people who are disadvantaged. When people think of charitable giving, they think of a quick, hands-on approach to solving problems immediately, such as after a crisis or natural disaster. Relief such as shelter, food, supplies, and medical equipment are all good examples of charitable donations.
By way of comparison, the word philanthropy is derived from the Greek word Philanthropia, which means ‘to love mankind’. A philanthrope is someone who is considered to be a people person; they are highly personable with everyone they come into contact with. The connotation of the word philanthropy is centered more on a strategic, long-term solution to an ongoing problem. Rebuilding is also considered to be a philanthropic effort.
The stigma surrounding charity is also very different than philanthropy, in that people think of it as a grassroots, pedestrian fundraising-type of struggle. In contrast, philanthropy possesses an air of eliteness about it. The term is often used to describe wealthy benefactors who give large amounts in honor of significant global causes.
When people donate in a charitable way, it is usually a spur of the moment decision. It can be very reactionary. Because of this, it is rarely a strategically planned endeavor. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is not only planned, but it is also often budgeted for. Tax breaks are calculated and large donations are exchanged for plaques or remembrances.
While it is true that both charity and philanthropy might both accomplish the same result, fulfilling people’s needs and making the world a better place to live, the methodology that each one follows is vastly different. Charity is more focused on the direct ease of suffering in response to a specific incident. Philanthropy searches for the origins of an issue and tries to solve the problem in a big-picture way.