03 Nov I am a philanthropoid.
I am a philanthropoid.
The word is a jocular combination of “philanthropist” and “anthropoid” and describes someone who gives away other people’s money.
When I first heard the word, I chuckled. Yes, I thought, I’ve needed a word for someone like me, a foundation staff member who is almost a philanthropist, but not quite.*
But as I turned the new word over in my mind, it bothered me. The “anthropoid” suffix is described by the dictionary to be something that “resembles a human” or perhaps “resembles apes.” So it suggests something not fully evolved. Too, that “oid” sound reminds me of a robot, a droid, who blindly and without emotion implements whatever it’s been programmed to do.
And I began to wonder: does that describe me?
It’s true that those of us who give away other people’s money are constrained by governing documents expressing donor intent, by Board policies, even by tradition (i.e. “we’ve always done it that way”). Further, as the “resembling” part of the word philanthropoid implies, we are not the original philanthropists whose money makes our endeavors possible, so we can’t pretend that any checks we sign are the result of our own generosity.
I think of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion in The Wizard of Oz, resembling something they’d like to be – a thinker, a feeling man, and a fearsome creature, but not quite – on a quest to make themselves whole, singing, “If I only had a brain…the heart…the nerve.”
As staff and board members work through the recurring tasks of reviewing applications and investments, following Board policies, seeking year-end reports, and the like, it’s easy to become robots of philanthropy. But we all wish to fulfill our duties with intelligence, empathy and boldness. How do we reclaim the passion that first led us to work in philanthropy?
The Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy supports local funders as they make grants and sponsorships in Greenville County, whether with their own money or that of their companies or foundation benefactors. And since we began meeting in July of 2014, we’ve discovered that we share a desire to improve our community with smarts, sensitivity, and enterprise.
However, most foundations in Greenville County have few or no staff, which makes it difficult for decision makers to learn about trends in grantmaking or to network extensively with nonprofits in the area. Staff with corporate giving responsibilities often have grants or sponsorships as just one of many tasks they must handle.
GPP has filled a need for these decision makers. By connecting funders with education and information on funding practices and local topics of interest – such as education, homelessness, affordable housing, and health care – GPP helps each member engage in smarter philanthropy. By creating a venue to network with others in philanthropy and those working on the ground in our community’s nonprofits, GPP bolsters our connections and compassion. And by collaborating through GPP, both philanthropoids and philanthropists can find strength in numbers as we take on bold new approaches to old problems.
A moral of The Wizard of Oz is the things that we search for – courage, love, wisdom – are often already within us. This concept is fundamental to GPP’s success. GPP doesn’t aim to pour information into the membership, but to unlock and empower the ideas, dreams, concerns and aspirations we have for ourselves, our work and the community we serve.
* “Philanthropoid” was coined by Carnegie Corporation staff in the late forties, according to Fifty Years Among the New Words: A Dictionary of Neologisms, 1941-1991, Cambridge University Press.