A hit show on Apple TV features the anti-hero, Ted Lasso, a hapless soccer coach, who says,
"For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It's about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field."
I am afraid that we have become a society that narrowly defines success. And in the process, we are at risk of losing something noble and important.
In 2011, at age 50, I started a charity. I didn’t plan to do this, but life threw me some lemons (breast cancer) so I detoured and started making lemonade, the Israel Lemonade Fund ( www.lemonadefund.org), a charity that gives emergency financial support to needy breast cancer patients while they are in treatment. Because I saw how scary it was to be very sick. I was fortunate to be stable financially, but how does one get through it if they are not? We all lose time from work when in treatment. But not everyone can survive the ordeal and feed their family or make rent.
Over the years, this small experiment in philanthropy has grown to become a lifeline for breast cancer patients. Women who are sole providers no longer need to fear the financial repercussions of a serious illness, knowing that there is a cushion of support. A safety net to carry them through a dark time. This is true charity, tiding people over until they (hopefully) recover and return to work.
Yet, today there is more and more talk about impactful giving. People want to MAKE AN IMPACT, not give handouts. Impact philanthropy is considered charitable giving that creates lasting changes in society. If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.
Very nice. But what about the people who cannot fish because they are getting chemo? Or are simply too poor at the moment due to bad luck. It happens, and it could happen to any one of us. Should we ignore charities that simply care for the poor? Should we stop funding immediate needs such as food, medical treatment, and shelter, in the interest of making a longer term impact?
If we shift our priorities away from addressing immediate needs, we are transforming the basic tenet of charity into a business with only long-term wins and losses. We will not see our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, because we are only focused on progress charts and KPIs. In an age of multitasking with the goal of ever increasing productivity, we expect our compassion to be productive as well.
This is a mistake. Impactful giving is important. It is a way to better our world and should be encouraged. But not at the expense of compassionate giving. Realistically, poverty will always be with us. But we must not look away. Giving to the poor is simply something we must do sometimes. Even if we do not change the people we are helping. Because they are human and they need us at that moment.
Early in his presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
At a time when we are becoming increasingly polarized, it is important not to lose sight of our humanity. We should all continue to donate to charities who work both impactfully and compassionately.
As Ted Lasso wisely said,
“Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing.”