Charity is Love, not Canned Tuna

Nov 25, 2015 | Social Responsibility

The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s fear.

Have you ever sat through a nonprofit meeting where the fear of perception of a decision was paralyzing? Absolutely paralyzing?

Vu is an irreverent, snarky, and hilarious blogger I read on the reg. From a recent post Nonprofit With Balls (the title isn’t about what you think), he summarizes perfectly how this fear holds us back in our sector:

There’s no gentle way to put this: The nonprofit sector is full of brilliant people paralyzed by fear. Boards fear liabilities and getting sued. Executive Directors fear not having sufficient cashflow for the next payroll; we fear firing staff who are clearly not a good fit for our organizations; we fear the perceptions from the community with every decision we make; we fear giving funders and donors feedback. Development Directors fear losing individual donors; we fear that our org’s brand is weak, or that we are not up to date on the latest fundraising techniques. Program Directors fear our outcomes and metrics are not strong enough; we fear we are not doing enough for our community members; we fear that our programs will shut down and harm the people we serve.

mirageSome of these fears have real consequences, but most do not. Fears are like mirages. They’re only real in your mind. And they’re more dangerous the more you rely on them.

There’s another way.

I want to invite you to return to the roots of charity to tap into abundance, love, and courage.

Charity = Love, Not Canned Food

It seems to me that the word, charity, has been simplified to “those who have” give to “those who have not.” When we think of charity, it’s usually something like:

  • It’s Christmas. Let’s buy toys for children we’ll never meet.
  • It’s Thanksgiving. Families need food on Thanksgiving. We can do that.
  • This family needs school uniforms. I can buy school uniforms.
  • This person needs housing. Let’s get them in the shelter.

As donors and volunteers, there’s usually a separateness between our gifts of time, talent, and treasure, and the recipients. As nonprofit staffers, our role and resources limit how much we can help.

I don’t want to diminish the giving of “stuff.” Food, clothing, shelter, mental health services — all of it — is important and needed.

My premise is this, however: there’s a disconnect in our work and that needs to change. We’ve disconnected charity from it’s true meaning: love.

What would change if we viewed our clients, volunteers and board members, coworkers, donors, and funders with love? Not the ooey-gooey, Kumbaya kind. The kind of love that looks at the recipients of charity AND the funders of charity as dignified human beings, not objects of our affection.

We’d lose fear and accept abundance.

The root of the word, charity, is caritas: preciousness, dearness, high price. Caritas is connected to agape, the form of love reserved for all of mankind simply because they are our fellow human beings. (Don’t just take my word for it. Scholars and Wikipedia have all the details here.)

This love asks us to connect with others in deep, meaningful ways, and to be honest with each other. We don’t give simply because we have an extra coat. We give because someone else is without a coat. (There’s a powerful nuance there.)

Money creates weird power relationships…both acknowledged and unacknowledged. Honesty is the great equalizer. So when we look toward our funders with love we’re able to say, “The problems you’re trying to impact and the work we do are in alignment. But your 22-page grant application is overly burdensome for us to prove our capabilities and your reporting requirements mean we spend more time on this grant than the value it brings to our organization.”

Love requires us to have courageous conversations.

When we’re courageous, we’re able to see other paths forward. We trust ourselves, our colleagues, and our organization to weather many storms and find our way out of them. The mirages disappear.

Instead of connecting with fear, how can you find ways to connect with love? 

Then share your food if that makes sense.