Back to basics: Volunteerism and fundamental philanthropy
24 April 2008
by Nicole Boles

In this generation, when business rules the day, it's refreshing to witness the (re)emergence of fundamental philanthropy.

What is fundamental philanthropy?  

Simply put, philanthropy is any altruistic activity performed for the purpose of creating good or improving the quality of life.  Fundamental philanthropy is then described as 'basic' or 'natural' philanthropy.  This type of philanthropy involves using our own 'natural' resources, such as talents, skills, knowledge and opportunities to perform an altruistic act.

Fundamental philanthropy or intentional acts of kindness have become one of today's hottest topics. Voluntary association, voluntary giving and voluntary actions are gaining so much attention and awareness in our culture. National magazines and local newspapers have recently made celebrities out of ordinary citizens committed to extraordinary acts of grace using nothing more than their innate abilities.  

Even Hollywood is in on the movement, with the biggest and brightest stars temporarily putting away their wallets and tapping into the greatest fundraising influence possible - their famous names and faces - to shine light on important causes.  

Fundamental philanthropy, it seems, has become more mainstream in recent years than ever before. The goal in life seems to be changing. An elemental emphasis on 'philanthropy' has recently shifted to a popular focus of 'social responsibility'. And the truth is, even though we may not be rich, famous celebrities, we all have something powerful that must be given to society!

Why is fundamental philanthropy so important?

Brendan Behan once said, "I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society, except that which makes the road safer, the beer stronger, the old men and women warmer in the winter, and happier in the summer."  A jolly good declaration, and one that clearly depicts the essence of that which makes charity a way of life instead of a duty.  

Philanthropy, by tradition, is rich people donating loads of money to their pet causes. A bourgeois obligation. People like Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and JD Rockefeller… they were serious philanthropists. For most of society, the assumption is that "if I'm not rich, I can't be a philanthropist".

Simply not so.  Philanthropy does not have anything to do with money.  Not a single cent is required.  You can put your chequebook away forever and still be a well-seasoned philanthropist.

A wise person once said, "All the money in the world doesn't help if there isn't anyone to do the work.  The most plentiful crops will rot if there is no one to harvest the fields". Those donations of compassion and cooperation are just as important as money because both parties are fundamental to getting the work done.

Although, it's essential for each of us to contribute when we can, funds to further the efforts and operations of our preferred charities, it is not the only way to be charitable!  It's high time for society to get back to basics and start discovering the greatest gifts we have to offer, such as our:

  • Skills - Are you an experienced carpenter?  Why not assist a Habitat for Humanity project in your area? (
  • Talents - Be a Guerrilla Gardener.  Armed with shovels and seeds, guerrilla gardeners are doing their part to beautify landscapes of neighbourhoods everywhere. (
  • Hobbies - Do you love to knit?  Get your Friday night knitting club together and start knitting warming caps for kids with cancer. (
  • Knowledge - Knowledge is power.  If you know of a way to help others, offer that wisdom to individuals, groups, communities and nations. (
  • Status - If you're in a position of power or influence, use it!  Put your prominence to good by raising awareness to the pressing issues in our world. (

The earth is ripe for change. Fundamental philanthropy is essential to positive change.  Tapping into our innate gifts is a powerful way to combine our 'natural resources' with our desire to increase the well-being of society.  The great news is we all have something to contribute!


About the Author: Nicole Boles is the director of My Idea For Change, an interactive ideas bank for world change.  For more information, go to or

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