What are the dimensions of charity?

Charity as Destination: An Organization Through Which you can Help Others

While everyday life abounds with small opportunities to help and be generous to others, there also exist more structured routes through which you can funnel your sense of charity.

The term charity (plural: charities) thus also describes those that have been set up and are operated for philanthropic, educational or religious reasons, including (but not limited to) the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the support for medical research, and religious causes. The recent trend away from paternalistic terminology has precipitated a general switch from the use of the term "charity" to the use of the term "nonprofit organization."

Political correctness aside, nonprofit organizations - including charities, charitable trusts, charitable foundations, religious institutions, educational institutions, and other entities set up not to make a profit but to make a difference—are federally registered with a charitable status that allows an organization to issue tax receipts for donations, and involves rules and regulations about governance, advocacy and operations that may provide a higher level of accountability than non-charities.

Charity as Emotion: An Inclination of Kindness Toward Others

The term "charity" derives from Christian theology, in which charity is one of the three great moral virtues (it means loving kindness towards others). Though the term charity itself is from the Judeo-Christian tradition, this fraternal regard for a kindness toward others is inherent across traditions:

• The ancient Greeks used the term "agape" (or love) to describe a person's seemingly innate inclination to help others.

• In Islam, the term "hubb" or "mahabbah" denotes tenderness and affection, and often results in "sadaquah," or almsgiving.

• In Buddhism, there exist multiple kinds of charity, but pure charity is considered the best merit a person can possess.

This sense of charity translates into a moral duty to help others, often through self-sacrifice. In its most common incarnations, such self-sacrifice includes the giving of money or goods to those less fortunate, or the donation of time to help others in need.

Charity as action: The Kindness one Shows to Others

You really did them a charity! "How charitable of you!" We say such things to applaud kindnesses - but what does it really mean? Generally, charity is known less as the inclination toward kindness that it describes than as the action that it engenders.

Charity is also the act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, the giving of money or of aid, the being generous and full of sympathy and understanding. Charity can be giving your spare change to a homeless person, or writing a check to an organization that does research on medicines for sick children. Charity can be spending time with lonely elderly people, or it can be offering sympathetic words to someone who is having a hard day.

The translation of your sense of charity into action can be as small as letting someone cut ahead of you in traffic when you are in a rush, or as large as a million-dollar donation to an organization that provides disaster relief or any number of other public services. There are innumerable opportunities every day to put charity into action.

Charity Frequently Asked Questions

What services do animal charities provide?

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What organizations promote conservation and environmental protection?

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How can we help prevent and reduce substance abuse in our communities?

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William Pirraglia