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Why Philanthropy?

By Marie LeBlanc, Catalogue Community Partnerships Coordinator

As a relative newcomer to the sector, I often ponder the “big picture” of philanthropy. Coming from a social science background, I find it tempting to sort all of society’s actors into two categories: market or state, business or government. But philanthropic and nonprofit organizations fill a void between the two that defies simple categorization. Government and business’ roles in society are mostly accepted and understood (forgive me for by-passing the partisan debate on the purpose of government) — but philanthropy is a bit more complicated. Why does philanthropy exist in the first place, and how will philanthropy grow and continue to evolve in the future? What new voids will open that philanthropy can best fill?

I found intriguing answers to these questions in a few pieces of news this week. One, authored by Michael Moody and published in the Nonprofit Quarterly blog, explored the issue mentioned above — whether it’s most helpful to consider philanthropy solely in the dualistic terms of the state and market. Moody argues that the dualist perspective might not be the most helpful, and suggests focusing instead on the positive and unique attributes that philanthropy offers as a field. Consider his short-list of things that philanthropy is uniquely good at:

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In The News …

The Effect Of Youth Unemployment On Crime (DCentric via Justice Policy Institute): “DC has an unemployment disparity, in which joblessness is very low in wealthy neighborhoods, while low-income neighborhoods have Depression-era unemployment rates. The Justice Policy Institute report also showed how unemployment is chronically high in places with a lot of crime.” A graph of 2010 property crimes, violent crimes, and unemployment rates by DC Ward show that the three correlate almost exactly. The report also points out that “as compared to their more advantaged peers who may have received more preparation from their family, school and overall community environment, youth from low-income areas of the District may need additional guidance to meet the expectations of the workplace.”

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