"Philanthropy is private action in a public space." - H. Peter Karoff
"All philanthropy is personal." - Tierney and Fleishman
Gifts, libations, communion around a hearth or altar, sacrifice (sometimes animal, sometimes human), propitiation, commemoration, expiation - all that preceded the invention of money. These traditions continue in our subterranean lives, or in the space outside the market, around the central square, where we meet to enact and pass on an identity deeper than that of owner, manager, investor, consumer.
Willy-nilly, we are part of a pluralistic society or economy, whose fellow citizens on average (as you can tell from the comments you see on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, or the trolls on blogs) are a mixed lot: some fanatics, some morally insane, many narcissistic, some ill-educated, many full of positive mental attitude as a defense against despair or self-awareness, many invincibly prejudiced, all opinioned, almost all with a hair trigger for whatever violates his or her sense of what is proper.
Teaching philanthropy (as a fool's errand and expiation for my own sins), I often, hear adult students all contorted because I am a) an Evangelical Christian (since one of the readings is by one), b) a social conservative (since several readings are by such), c) a pointy-headed, air- fairy, artsy-fartsy, liberal arts type (because I am one), c) a Marxist or Socialist (since I talk sometimes about community), d) a market-minded tax, finance and legal type (since I have studied it and teach some of it), e) a gay person (since one of the readings is by one), and so it goes. No one can tell whether they agree with a given position until they can label it, as taught on TV.
What we learn in our uncivil civil society is to keep our faith, or faithlessness, our personal philosophies, whatever we cherish as too precious to be besmirched, to ourselves for our private use, and for our families and for our little, nearly tribal communities of those like us. In the public square we learn to speak only in the received languages of the market, superficial politics (winners, losers, ideology), shallow news (mostly fires, weather, violence, scandals, sports, stock market updates, and reports on the overt side of right/left political issues, all well-bedecked with advertising).
We may dream in poetry; we soon learn to speak publicly in prose. We may pray to God, read John Rawls, summon the world spirit, or use as many superstitious rituals as a major league batter, but we speak only of Mammon and metrics, lest we be shunned, scorned, or treated as having committed a boundary violation, bringing the private public.
As a result, gift planning as more than money- in-motion is subtle. You cannot go by how the client or donor first "presents" himself or herself in your office. What you see is the shell, the armored self, the man or woman in role, the face prepared to meet a face. And the language will be the bland public language. Yet until the language changes, and you hear the voice of a long-deceased mother, or the intonations of the donor's high school coach, or hear strains of a text (literary or scriptural or philosophical), or hear the private language - yes - of love and hate, the language of community understood as needing a scapegoat, enemy, or "other," until you hear the moral story of which the client is hoping to be the hero (even if that heroism is the paltry greatness of the market), you are not yet connected to the strongest motives for giving. It is from those motives that the moral hero or sinner or quest knight, or penitent, or whatever other "self" lurks within the armor, posits a gift in community, a social gesture, even if nothing more than that of a businesslike person, "getting results."
To be clear: I am not saying that when the armor comes off you almost always find a human being, a citizen, a human soul. What you may find is no more than the idiosyncratic product of a civilization that has forgotten the narratives that keep love and community and body politic and commonweal, or grace and gift as offering, alive. In that case, best to encourage the client to posit an end in view, however random, or arbitrary (the world is full of causes, pick one), and then quickly get invested in achieving measurable social impact thereby. When ends fail, the means and metrics can keep us from feeling as empty as we are.