Pollyanna, as the Nonprofiteer’s older and wiser brother once observed, gets a bum rap. Her name is taken to mean an idiotic insistence that everything’s fine in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, when in fact the character is someone who so clearly appreciates life’s setbacks and trials that she’s created an entire system for managing them, namely, finding something redeeming about them, even if it’s only that things can’t get any worse. Pollyanna is a prescription for bravery, and for charity in its broadest sense: an acceptance of life and people as they are.
As it turns out, Pollyanna Grows Up–Eleanor H. Porter’s 1915 sequel to her smash-hit book–is also a description of charity in the narrower sense, as practiced by more than a few donors. Our heroine discovers people living in grinding poverty, and drags her own benefactor Mrs. Carew to see them. It turns out Mrs. Carew is the landlady of their hovel, and she quietly arranges for necessary repairs.
But this, to Pollyanna, was a mere drop in the bucket. There were yet all those other sick-looking men, unhappy-looking women, and ragged children out in the street–Jamie’s neighbors. Confidently she looked to Mrs. Carew for help for them, also.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Carew, when she learned what was expected of her, "so you want the whole street to be supplied with fresh paper, paint, and new stairways, do you? Pray, is there anything else you’d like?"
"Oh, yes, lots of things," sighed Pollyanna, happily. "You see, there are so many things they need–all of them! And what fun it will be to get them! How I wish I was rich so I could help, too; but I’m ‘most as glad to be with you when you get them."
Mrs. Carew quite gasped aloud in her amazement. She lost no time–though she did lose not a little patience–in explaining that she had no intention of doing anything further . . . . At some length she explained to Pollyanna that there were charitable institutions, both numerous and efficient, whose business it was to aid all the worthy poor, and that to these institutions she gave frequently and liberally.
Even then, however, Pollyanna was not convinced.
"But I don’t see," she argued, "why it’s any better, or even so nice, for a whole lot of folks to club together and do what everybody would like to do for themselves. I’m sure I’d much rather give Jamie a–a nice book, now, that to have some old Society do it; and I know he’d like better to have me do it, too."
"Very likely," returned Mrs. Carew, with some weariness and a little exasperation. "But it is just possible that it would not be so well for Jamie as–as if that book were given by a body of people who knew what sort of one to select."
This led her to say much, also (none of which Pollyanna in the least understood) about "pauperizing the poor," the "evils of indiscriminate giving," and the "pernicious effects of unorganized charity."
Shades of our present-day social entrepreneurs, who aren’t satisfied to be generous but also insist on knowing "what sort of [solution] to select," on not "pauperizing the poor" and on giving only with the greatest discrimination.
Obviously it’s important to give as wisely as one can; but it never hurts to have a reminder that arrogant wealth (like poverty) is always with us, and that a dash of humility about the likely impact of what and how one gives goes a long way in converting "charity" to its alternate translation from the Greek: "love."