Anyone Can Be A Philanthropist!

Note: Sometimes we use the words “charity” and “philanthropy” interchangeably, and sometimes that makes sense. Some tell us that charity is about providing for the immediate needs of others while “philanthropy” is more about addressing the root causes of such needs.   My view is that both are more powerful when they work together. So when I use the word, “philanthropy” I am including “charity” as a fundamental part of the former.

Most often when the media mention a philanthropist, they are referencing a person or a family of considerable wealth who are using their good fortune to help address social problems.   While it is true that a billionaire can have more impact than I can, I believe anyone can be a philanthropist and that is what this series is about.

Wikipedia tells us that philanthropy” was first coined as an adjective by the playwright Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound (5th century BC), to describe Prometheus’ character as “humanity loving” (philanthropos tropos).” Along the same lines, the ancient Greeks saw philanthropy  as the “love of what it is to be human” and that this love “is the essential nature and purpose of humanity, culture and civilization.” That’s a pretty lofty order, so to speak, but sometimes it is helpful to go back to the origins of the words we use so often to describe so many things.

It follows then (at least for me) that philanthropy is about acting on that love of humanity. And that is something each and every one of us can do and I suggest (in keeping with the wisdom of the ancient Greeks) is what each of us is called upon to do. Philanthropy is not reserved for the wealthy or those in positions of stature or power.

I remember standing with colleagues and other onlookers as we watched our second Thrift Shoppe fire burn the building to the ground. All kinds of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. How would this impact those who depend on us? Why is this happening to us, again? What can I do to ensure our staff are okay and how will I keep them employed? What will all of this cost? How will we ever replace the contents?


As I stood there, the community was already acting. While fire fighters did their jobs, all kinds of people were already on Twitter and Face Book organizing clothing drives. We didn’t ask them to; they just responded because they cared and wanted to do something to help. I believe all of them acted out of kindness and concern but also saw themselves as having a responsibility to act. I think their actions reflect a love of humanity, although each of them may describe it in their own words differently. I believe everyone who helped, no matter to what degree, were engaged in philanthropy.

A while back we reported here on our blog that École Joseph Moreau’s “Comité ESPOIR” (Hope Committee) had undertaken fundraising efforts for the third year in a row to support those less fortunate community.   This small group of Junior High students came down to Bissell Centre to learn more about the challenges faced by our participants and they raised more $750 in their support of Bissell Centre. These children – these leaders of tomorrow – are all philanthropists.

In May we  posted  on Face Book about some amazing women at St. Paul’s United Church who got together and made 50 beautiful quilts that Bissell Centre could give out to mothers on Mother’s Day and also as  home-warming gifts for participants of our Homeless to Homes program. What motivated them to do that? I have to believe it was out of love for other human beings and I am sure an expression of their faith.

People from all walks of life phone us up about volunteering at Bissell Centre. Each year thousands donate and together they represent all age groups and people from all walks of life. More than 15,000 donate clothing and household items. Employee groups help out with painting or cleaning up the grounds. Businesses large and small give to us in so many ways.

When Servus Credit Union heard about the fire, one of their staff phoned me and said they wanted to help.After a couple of conversations they decided to provide matching funding to our #restorebissell campaign. Servus involved their employees in this who helped promote the campaign and when the campaign was over, they contributed $15,000. They just did this. We didn’t ask them to. Another example of philanthropy!

I have no doubt that all of these amazing people don’t just limit their acts of kindness to Bissell Centre. My guess is they help address needs and work to solve community problems in other ways too. I am grateful to all of them for everything they do.

Anyone can be a philanthropist. I have a feeling you might be  one, too.

Mark Holmgren, CEO

Reg Canadian Charity · 118810829RR0001