Is philanthropy really altruistic?

hand_heartThat may seem like a ridiculous question. If someone donates money to help other people or causes, clearly he or she is being altruistic. But hold on a minute. What happens if you enjoy or take pride in the support you provide?

In our interviews, more than one of Canada’s top givers questioned whether philanthropy was truly altruistic. Honey Sherman made the point succinctly. “If you feel satisfied about your help with [causes] then you are no longer being totally altruistic.” Or as Aditya Jha put it, “Philanthropy is giving to yourself.”

For those who are uncomfortable with the tension between philanthropy and altruism, Honey provided reassurance when she told us, “It’s okay by the way to do a selfless thing for selfish reasons.”

Seth Godin picks up the point in a recent blog post appropriately titled Narcissistic Altruism. He rightly contends that, “Everyone who does good things does them because it makes them feel good, because the effort and the donation is worth more than it costs.”

It’s interesting that so many of those who give the most in Canada told us about the many ways in which they have benefitted from their philanthropy. Maybe Honey Sherman is right when she says, “there’s no such thing as true altruism.”


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