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Influence through philanthropy: What philanthropy looks like

Tonny van de Pasch | 7/7/2016

The joy of giving comes from feeling that one is doing the right thing.​


In her presidential call to action for the 2015-17 biennium, Cathy Catrambone, PhD, RN, FAAN, called all members of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) to “Influence to Advance Global Health & Nursing” in four areas: 1) advocacy, 2) policy, 3) lifelong learning, and 4) philanthropy. In this article, No. 5 in a six-part series on President Catrambone’s call, the author addresses influence through philanthropy.
The word “philanthropy” stems from the Greek language and, literally translated, means love of mankind. A simple and comprehensive definition is "the practice of giving money and time to help make life better for other people." Making life better for other people is exactly what nursing is about and what nurses do. Small wonder that many of them tend to expand their professional roles by engaging in additional activities and projects that improve the lives of others.

vandePasch_Tonny_ID_embed_SFWFor example, there’s the nurse who, in addition to her work in a mental institution and her busy family life, works one evening a week as a volunteer in a hospice. Others contribute their time to charities. When I visited a hospital in Zambia when the AIDS epidemic was at its height, I saw for myself the enormous impact they had. Nurses and doctors working for charities were totally dedicated to providing the best possible care.
What does philanthropy look like?
Love of mankind manifests itself in many ways as it seeks to take care of, advance, or enhance the quality of life or potential of people. In practical terms, philanthropy implies development of private initiatives for public welfare aimed at improving the situation of others. As such, it has a very long tradition.
In his famous essay The Gift, French sociologist Marcel Mauss described the role gifts played in societies around the world. In ancient Greece, it was deemed proper for wealthy businessmen to give away a significant part of their wealth. Amassing wealth without compensating for it by giving was seen as lacking nobility. In a way, this still is the case. The founder of such a financially successful corporation as Microsoft will only be considered noble if he is willing to give. The French call this societal expectation noblesse oblige.
We may speak of a philanthropic sector in society—many organizations raising and managing funds for diverse charities—but philanthropy is much broader than that. When we define a philanthropist as someone who gives time, money, knowledge, or skills to create a better world, the concept should apply to each of us. Combining these and other elements in your own way makes philanthropy personal.
Why do we give?
Mauss stated in his essay that giving, receiving, and reciprocating build relationships. They create human connectedness and provide a sense of belonging. Philanthropy is about commitment and human connection. Since in philanthropy you give but do not receive in the same way, there is no direct reciprocity. So why would one give at all? Maybe there is some other reward.
Giving fulfills an important symbolic function. It is especially about what one wants to express, the idea behind the gift. The giver wants to communicate something about his or her preferred relation to the receiver. In essence, it is to realize, often together with others, a certain aim. The feeling that one is doing the right thing is giving’s main reward and the source of its joy.
Different attitudes
While orienting myself on the subject, I came upon a story told by Ken Dion, PhD, MSN/MBA, RN, past president of the National Student Nurses Association Foundation Board. He approached a chief nursing officer of a multibillion-dollar software company about making a contribution for nursing student scholarships and was told, "We do not donate to nursing because nurses are not the decision-makers in selecting our software."
Dion, who has also served as president of the board of directors of Sigma Theta Tau International Foundation for Nursing and is presently board treasurer of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), presents a totally different view on the subject in "The Lady in the Cape," published in Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL). Asked by a colleague why he directed almost all of his philanthropic efforts toward nursing, he told her about The Lady in the Cape, which, by the way, is a very worthwhile “read.”
Dion concluded as follows: “The act of nursing embodies everything that is good and decent in this world. These values were instilled in me and have been reinforced throughout my life. When I am asked why I chose nursing as my profession, the answer is simple, ‘The Lady in the Cape taught me many things, among them: Physicians treat diseases. Nurses provide care for patients and their families.’ And when asked why nursing is the primary recipient of my personal philanthropy, the answer is also simple: ‘The Lady in the Cape.’”

My motivation for giving
When President Cathy Catrambone asked me to share about giving to STTI and to discuss various aspects of philanthropy, such as giving time and talent, I was motivated to put my feelings into words. I know from my own experience that giving is rewarding, that it feels good to help achieve a desired goal. To feel this satisfaction, it is important to choose goals carefully.
I have always been passionate about nursing and nursing science. As editor of a nursing journal, I could pursue this passion by doing my utmost to serve nurses with articles that furthered their professional knowledge and skills. I felt happy to be able, together with the board of editors, to share knowledge with colleagues and future colleagues. So, to me it follows naturally to support Sigma Theta Tau International, because the honor society gives me choices in my giving decisions. Sigma Theta International Foundation for Nursing has thoughtfully established funds for promoting leadership, advancing research, funding the future of nursing, and providing financial assistance for nurses who need it for a variety of reasons. Since the goals of STTI are well-articulated and its members are involved in healthcare in more than 90 countries, it gives me great satisfaction to help realize these goals.
In her call to action, President Catrambone stated, “STTI’s sustainability and continued growth depend upon philanthropy.” As I see it, three mechanisms—government, markets, and philanthropy—are available to help us achieve useful societal goals. Government domination may lead to excessive bureaucracy and undermining of personal responsibility. Market domination enhances freedom and personal responsibility but may bring insecurity for many and widespread poverty. Philanthropy promotes personal involvement, which is good, but done unwisely may result in a certain arbitrariness and inequality.
Maybe the best practice is an optimal combination of all three mechanisms, whereby government distributes resources that help guarantee healthcare for everybody, the market contributes to innovation and development, and philanthropy provides an overarching drive that motivates professionals and the public alike. RNL
Tonny van de Pasch trained and worked as a nurse in a mental hospital in the Netherlands before pursuing studies in anthropology and philosophy. For 24 years, she served as editor of the Dutch nursing journal TvZ, published for senior nurses, team managers, unit managers, and nurse specialists. Now retired, van de Pasch resides in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Read the other installments in the "Answering the call" series:

Influence through advocacy: Raising awareness, advancing change

Influence through policy: Nurses have a unique role
Influence through policy: Four steps YOU can take

Influence through lifelong learning: I developed leadership skills I didn’t think I’d ever have! 

Influence through philanthropy: Giving back to pay it forward

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