Mutually Nourishing Philanthropy

Mutually Nourishing Philanthropy

Paul Schervish
Mutually Nourishing Philanthropy
Done well, philanthropy should meet the needs of those who give and those who facilitate grantmaking, as well as the needs of beneficiaries.  The concept of “mutually nourishing” philanthropy, while not often-heard, is one that Paul Schervish has studied and talked about for many years. Schervish, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and former Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College will lead a discussion on the Spiritual Foundations of the New Physics of Finances, Faith, & Philanthropy at Philanthropy Southwest’s Annual Conference this October in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  View the conference agenda

One of the issues Schervish will explore in the upcoming discussion with funders is how philanthropy as an “engagement of self isn’t about self-gratification or selflessness,” it’s about effective and rewarding fundraising and grantmaking. It’s about being connected. “Think about it,” he says, “why should we be involved in helping to benefit the well-being of other people if we’re messing up our lives? All the people involved in philanthropy are important! When we understand how our contributions improve the well-being of others, it improves our well-being too.”

With this in mind, Schervish encourages program officers, development officers, CEOs and other staff in foundations and nonprofits, as well as trustees and donors themselves, to understand how important it is to strive to simultaneously fulfill the happiness of beneficiaries and our selves.

“When our work and interactions are far removed from the ultimate beneficiaries it’s easy to lose sight of how our actions benefit others,” says Schervish. “Yet our actions do have consequences for ourselves and others. What we put into practice can be caring and mutually nourishing, or not. It’s akin to how you use fire: to provide warmth and cook nourishing food, or to destroy things of value.”

“This is a particularly important concept for wealth holders and foundation leaders to understand because having so much power can be both constructive and destructive,” says Schervish. “Because of this power, and the heightened ability to help shape the world, people who are involved in grantmaking need to take care to accomplish some work on themselves. First and foremost, people should consider that their financial fortune and position of power may not be due entirely to their own merit, just as others’ misfortune may not be completely attributable to their own failure.

“The core of this self-work is simply paying attention to the lessons you learn in daily life. When you come to something that is disturbing to your soul, something you did do, didn’t do, or need to change, you should take care to act differently – and keep on doing that throughout your life.“

A deeper understanding of self helps people see that their role is both to positively affect the beneficiaries of philanthropy and to express gratitude for their own good fortune. The foundation of this concept is “philia,” the root word of philanthropy. This comes from what Aristotle called “friendship love,” a love that is mutually nourishing. It is the type of love that exists in parent-child relationships. This degree of personal care should be present in philanthropy as well.

“Ultimately,” says Schervish, “striving for mutual nourishment is about trying to help people in the world of philanthropy do their jobs better by being more effective and happier human beings.”

Sign up now to attend the 2015 Philanthropy Southwest Annual Conference, October 22-24, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and join the discussion with Dr. Schervish and other compelling and inspiring presenters and colleagues.  Visit our website to learn more and register. 

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