Friday, October 8, 2010

The Hazards of Calling Yourself a "Philanthropist"

A wise man recently said "be thankful for all the praise, but don't inhale it."

There's a hazard in being a philanthropist. When you hold the purse strings everyone treats you like a celebrity: every decision you make is so wise, and people are always worried about taking up your time. You can develop a complex often noted in famous people - they become manic, hypersensitive, and prone to tantrums. They're euphoric and a little blind. They're out of touch with what's going on. They think their opinions are laws.

Nobody is omniscient, and fame makes you even more narrow-minded to the needs of others. You need to get out and understand your community and all of the potential ways you can influence it. You should stay associated with people outside your field who can give constructive feedback. They'll help you come back down to earth. Kathy Bain was country director for World Bank Ghana. She decided to keep herself grounded by going out at least once a month and visiting as many projects as she could.

When human beings perceive how good or bad they are, they justify bad behavior based on a perception that they are riding on a moral high. For example, a study found that people who decided to buy an environmentally friendly product at a store were more prone to be rude or unethical after they left the store.

What a huge moral hazard! Philanthropists run a high risk of perceiving themselves as more ethical and virtuous than they actually are. This can cause them to engage in worse behavior than they normally would. When you're in a position of public trust, you have to recognize all of the gifts that enabled you to get where you are. You have a stewardship over the public funds sacrificed by others, intended for public good.

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