Insightful middle ground between pain relief and strategic giving

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For many Americans, philanthropy is synonymous with charity. The latter, says Susan Berresford, “provides resources to deal with immediate needs such as sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and other acts of basic generosity”. Strategic philanthropy, meanwhile, involves “experimental or policy-oriented giving” and “supports the search for new ideas and programmes that aim at the root causes of problems”.

These two faces of philanthropy – charitable and strategic – are complementary but, she says, many people denigrate charity.

“It is a mistake to polarise the concept of charity and social change. At one end is clearly the direct charitable relief of suffering . . . at the other end is investment to help people have better livelihood opportunities so that they can feed themselves,” she says. “In the middle is a very interesting area because very often if you work in a feeding programme you learn a lot about what are the barriers that have kept people from being able to earn on their own. And so this grey area in the middle is often very interesting and I think people in our field too often make a sharp dichotomy between charity and change.”

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