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The terms charity and philanthropy may feel interchangeable to some, but not to those specializing in the industry. Before diving into the world of nonprofits, it is essential to understand the differences between them. This is true even for those that only intend to donate more frequently. 


Typically, charity is defined as giving (monetary, item donations, or time spent) to fulfill basic human needs. In other words, when people donate to charities, they often do so in the hope of providing food, shelter, and other essentials to those who need it most.

Charity can come in many forms. Many people make one-time donations, especially around the holidays. Other people opt to sign up for repeat donations as a way of continuing the support of their favorite charities and causes.


The term philanthropy means “love of humankind.” Naturally, this gives out all sorts of positive implications. While philanthropists aren’t required to have much money, it is more common to see, especially on certain levels.

Where charitable donations stem from the intent to do good, philanthropy stems from the desire to create change. Philanthropists donate their money in hopes of creating lasting transformations. Therefore, a certain level of strategy goes into their donations.

To look at it in another light, philanthropists try to target the root cause of a problem. For example, if they wanted to make a difference for animal rights, they would focus on donations to help change animal rights laws rather than funding more animal shelters. To a philanthropist, this is a more effective way of using their money for good. 

Key Differences

In truth, philanthropy and charity have quite a lot in common. This helps to explain why people get the two so easily confused. Both have the intention of making the world a better place. And both do so through charitable and monetary donations. 

However, there are a few key differences worth taking note of. Charity is more emotional – people donate to charities because they feel empathetic or passionate about a cause. Meanwhile, philanthropy is generally more logical, with philanthropists taking the time to research the issue to understand better where the money is needed most.

To see an example of the two in action, look to disaster relief organizations. Charity would call for people to donate funds immediately following a disaster – sending fresh water, supplies, and food to those directly affected. Conversely, a philanthropic take on the matter would require the organization’s support well before the disaster ever took place.