Tsunami lessons

[Editor’s note: This is part of continuing series of profiles of civic and philanthropic heroes.]

By Claire Gaudiani

Healthy societies need both charity and philanthropic investment.

The outrageously generous contributions to tsunami relief inspires us all to pause and re-celebrate the spirit of generosity and how it works in our world.

The short-term interventions of people in so many countries reminds us of all we share as human beings despite our many differences.

Then we need to think about how this crucial willingness to offer immediate material and financial response to disaster and suffering – charity — coexists with the more deliberate, consistent, longer-term commitment to development of well-being and better-being.

Philanthropic investment in human, physical and intellectual capital helps shape a world with a better future for all of us.

Americans have a history of doing both kinds of giving — to charity and to philanthropic investment.

Of course, our government donates our tax funds to emergency situations and our domestic and foreign aid funds to more regular and persistent needs.

But our history shows that American people also do both.

Charity responding to immediate need is critical but so is the speculative, patient, hopeful, risk-taking generosity to help create fundamental and long-lasting change.

Mary and Albert Lasker, for example, made contributions to scientific research for medical advancements during a lifetime of focus on the importance of this kind of investment.

Mrs. Lasker also used her funds to urge and browbeat, highly diplomatically, the government to increase significantly the funding for medical research from the federal budget.

The success of the Laskers’ generosity puts us all in their debt.

The Laskers invested in our future. This work is important in a different way from the outstanding support to tsunami victims.

Healthy societies need citizens to understand both kinds of giving and to make both kinds of gifts.

In America, the people do not leave either kind of giving to our government alone. We make both kinds the work we the people do.

Claire Gaudiani is a professor at The George H. Heyman Jr. Center Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University and the author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism.

Other columns by Claire Gaudiani:

Helping hands [9.20.04]

Change agent [10.11.04]

Retailing generosity [10.25.04]

Prescription for change [11.22.04]

Whitewashing history [12.06.04]

Breakthrough philanthropy [12.20.04]

Critical thinking [01.03.05]

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