Vanity Philanthropy: When contributions are all about you

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Doing good is not nearly as sweet if donations and fundraisers are all about the organizers rather than the beneficiaries they're out to help.


Partly due to luck and circumstance, and somewhat due to skill and education, I became independently wealthy by age 35 and converted fulltime to pet projects and charity causes.

I care about less fortunate LGBTQI people in Atlanta, but some refuse to accept my help. Where is it written that I can’t give back because I’m white, male and privileged?

Check my social feeds. I host fabulous fundraisers, and my personal monetary gifts are often large as well. I even pick up change on my runs to drop into donation buckets.

Why doesn’t my brand of philanthropy get the respect I deserve?

Dear Showboat:

Your first clue is in your own tales of altruism. They’re all about you. “I care, I give, I host, I, I, I…”

Your “brand of philanthropy” seems driven by your desire to be respected for it. Your parties may be fabulous, and your donations many, but both would be better if you focus on those in need rather than the deference you feel owed.

Assuming you’d still help people if no one noticed — and not brag-posting about it is a great start — here are some philosophies worth understanding.

British lecturer and author John Prockter, who is also a personal friend, recently asserted that respect is overrated. He advocates instead for humility in his personal blog.

I hear more about respect being earned than I do about it being a gift.

It’s some kind of modern currency, a transactional method of building up power or social collateral. A lack of respect is an excuse for bad relationships to be smashed apart, and a way to blame people for failure.

“I’ve earned the right to be respected”

“You don’t deserve my respect”

“I choose to respect someone until that person or group do something I don’t respect.”

However, if we ditched respect altogether and changed it to humility, we might just be able to find a real, servant-hearted approach to having meaningful relationships with all people, regardless of any differences.

Prockter backs his assertion with a gold standard of giving by none other than Mother Teresa. Her oft-published Humility List is as challenging for philanthropists, or anyone, to attain as it would be noble to pursue.

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.

2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.

3. Avoid curiosity.

4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.

5. Accept small irritations with good humor.

6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.

7. Accept censures even if unmerited.

8. Give in to the will of others.

9. Accept insults and injuries.

10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.

11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.

12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.

13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.

14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.

15. Choose always the more difficult task.

Another favorite British writer and theologian, C.S. Lewis, put it like this: ““True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

For Q's part, I’ll add empathy to the emotional spices your charity main course could use. It’ll be more satisfying for you, and it might help the whole meal go down better for your recipients. 

The Q is for entertainment purposes and not professional counseling. Send your burning Qs to [email protected]

Illustration by Brad Gibson

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the latest issue, enjoy all of the past editions of The Q advice column, and look for a new issue of Q each week online and around town.


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