Words That Describe Philanthropy

Wordle: Philanthropy

Wow! Thanks so the more than 25 of you who submitted an entry to our mini-contest in search of words that describe philanthropy. You can click on the link above to see a Wordle made from the entries.

The entries covered a lot of ground. Here’s a couple that jumped out at me:

By Jeanine Buford


When it’s at its best, philanthropy is gracious, graceful, and administered with a light touch.

When we think of grace, apart from the religious connotations, we think of support given with seriousness of purpose, but with a light touch. Graciousness supports without judgment, without pity, and without self-satisfaction. Gracious graceful philanthropy is humble, enlightening, and gives equally to the giver and receiver.

By Christine Egger


Great philanthropy is an expression of empathy — of recognizing oneself in another, and responding compassionately to our shared experiences.

Empathy requires understanding, or knowing, another’s story. Seeing ourselves in it. When philanthropy follows from empathy — from that emotional point of recognition — we have a better chance of effecting positive change when start to move resources in the name of helping.

By Helen Brunner


Philanthropic weaving is a practice that forms a connected whole, one that creates webs and networks across issues and types of work, similarities and differences, forming a resilient movement.

Philanthropists enjoy a bird’s eye view and have relationships with a wide variety of leaders, organizations and other philanthropists. Connecting the dots and working toward creating networks among those with common values and (sometimes) shared purpose supports sustainable change.

By Dien Yuen


Philanthropy is aspirational and dreams of doing big things. As we try to connect these higher, lofty goals to the day-to-day work, whether it is with our grantees or donors, we need to do it in a way that is meaningful and practical for them. We can’t ask a two-person shop to deliver a 10 page logic model. At the same time, we shouldn’t encourage philanthropists to tackle issues in ways we understand them to be. Philanthropy is a contact sport. It needs to be lived and practiced – everyday in practical, simple ways.

By Amy Kincaid


Humble means understanding deeply one’s role and how to fit into and onto the production.

Humble philanthropy knows “no small actors, just small parts.” It knows it’s place in the ensemble–key and critical, but not the only or most important. It plays appropriately to the size of the stage and the house. It understands the house acoustics and knows how (and when to project). It draws from technique, experience, hard work, and improvisation. It amplifies the energy from the text, the other actors, crew, director, producer, and audience.

By Charles Maclean


Juicy philanthropy fires neurons and heartbeats for the giver and receiver.

Brain scans and neuro-chemical analysis indicate that “the givers high” has a scientific basis. Juicy philanthropy produces an upward spiral where the giver and receiver engage in “pay it forward” infectious acts of kindness. The distinction between the giver and receiver is erased. There just might be a caring gene or at least a pre-disposition to care and give. It is through giving and receiving that we discover who we are . . . and what matters to us.

You can see all of the entries here.

As promised, we’re awarding a $50 gift certificate to Vittana (microfinance loans for students in developing countries) to one randomly chosen entry (we used Random.org).

And the winner is…

By Emily Rushing


Being connected with others for maximum impact makes good philanthropy great.

Personal giving is satisfying in a special way, but truly great things happen when the knowledge, enthusiasm, ideas and energy of many individuals come together in service of the greater good. The impact is greater on the chosen cause and on the donors, as they feel connected to their purpose and to each other.

Thanks to everyone for entering!


  1. Albert says:

    I wonder what happened to “effective”?

  2. It is just as interesting to see what words are not on the list as which ones are not. I’d guess that the contest appealed more to Right Brain thinkers than to Left Brain types.

  3. Jeff Trexler says:

    If you’re looking for words that aren’t so twee and self-affirming, perhaps next time you should offer a $50 gift certificate for cigarettes and beer!

  4. Autumn says:

    OMG, Sean, the “Wordle” is my new fascination now! I love the winning entry: Connected. Congrats Emily!

    I googled the exact phrase of “connected philanthropy” and it looks like we’ve got a nice starting point from SocialEdge in 2007: http://www.socialedge.org/blogs/fine-on-funding/archive/2007/01/09/connected-philanthropy. How do we put it into action? I’m excited!!!

  5. Nice “connecting” Autumn. Great post from Allison Fine.

    Jeff, what not-so-self-affirming word would you suggest?

  6. Jeff Trexler says:

    What not-so-affirming words do people already use?

    Seriously, the problem with crowdsourcing within the philanthropic community as a branding exercise is that the resulting words tend to reinforce the community’s own aspirational identity–a sure-fire way not to achieve the goals of “unexpectedness” and “credibility” noted in the original post.

    Rather than looking to people within philanthropy, myself included, for a descriptive word, a potentially more useful starting point would be folks outside the charitable bubble, especially if they don’t feel that there’s an expected answer or one that would offend the questioner. Hence the goof about cigarettes and beer–establishing a context of inquiry outside of do-goodery is more apt to solicit responses beyond the expected do-gooder rhetoric.

    Still, even offering commenters a bottle of Jack may not in itself do the trick, since readers of philanthropy blogs tend to fall within the niche. If that’s the group that’s going to be posting answers, we need to start with a different question.

  7. Autumn says:

    Jeff, you make an excellent point. There are always multiple audiences to consider. So now we have a few perspectives from the insiders, thanks to Sean’s challenge. Now, we need some perspectives from the outsiders.

    I’m also thinking about Beth Kanter’s running blog topic regarding the Pepsi Refresh challenge: http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2010/02/pepsifresh-contest-real-tracking-and-social-impact-analysis.html and the McKinsey study regarding prizes in philanthropy from March of 2009: http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/socialsector/And_the_winner_is.pdf. How do these contests and “insider” tactics to engage the “outsiders” change the general public’s perception and engagement for actual social change? Still figuring this one out but they seem to be related.