Good Giving: Understanding the differences between Charity and Philanthropy

. November 3, 2020.

 By Sean Nestor

Toledo is a city experiencing challenges, both economic and social. Many need help. A bit of expendable time or income may spark considerations of how to give back. Invariably, when determining where to contribute time or money, the terms charity and philanthropy  are often used interchangeably. The two words and concepts are distinguishable based on the motivating intent.


Charities often engage in work intended to treat the symptoms of social ailments.  Philanthropic efforts seek to address the cause of those social ailments. Both focuses have their place in the world of giving, and can work in tandem to create a continuum of service as powerful forces for positive change.

Charity work is appealing to many as it provides an opportunity to make an immediate, visible impact. When you distribute food to the needy as part of Food For Thought’s mobile food pantry (, you can see first-hand the people who benefit; when you help clean trash from flowing creeks with Partners for Clean Streams (, you reveal beautiful scenery as a result of your work.

But charities are limited in what they can achieve. While charitable work can reduce harm and keep circumstances from getting worse, it does not prevent bad situations from happening in the first place. That is where philanthropy comes into play.


Philanthropy is often a “big lift” – an ambitious effort to address root issues and to curtail or prevent social problems from developing in the first place. Famous examples include Andrew Carnegie’s push to construct libraries worldwide and Bill Gates’ efforts to eradicate malaria. The results are rarely immediate, but the impact of those actions is undoubtedly much larger than charitable efforts.

Philanthropy often begins when a person of considerable means contributes a large sum of money – known as an endowment – to form a certain type of non-profit organization, typically known as a foundation.  The foundation often employs an adviser to manage the investment of endowed funds, yielding returns that perpetuates its aims.

Bridging the gap

Community foundations provide a unique model, creating a bridge between charity and philanthropy. By offering the advising services of a foundation to large donors, a community foundation attracts philanthropic donors who wish to see their money benefiting programs and charities within a specific community. Locally, the Greater Toledo Community Foundation provides millions of dollars every year to non-profit organizations through the funds provided to them by philanthropic individuals and corporations.

For individuals with considerable assets (say, six figures or more) who desire to use funds to benefit the community, philanthropy may be a good fit.  Significant consideration should be given to what issues you may want to address before contacting a financial adviser or the Greater Toledo Community Foundation ( for further guidance. 

For those with a little less to donate,  but who still want to give back, a local charity is a great option as a recipient of your time and money. The Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce provides a great list on their web site ( 



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