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Philanthropy (from Greek φιλανθρωπία) means etymologically, the love of humanity, in the sense of caring and nourishing, it involves both the benefactor in their identifying and exercising their values, and the beneficiary in their receipt and benefit from the service or goods provided. A conventional modern definition is "private initiatives, for the public good, focusing on quality of life," which combines an original humanistic tradition with a social scientific aspect developed in the 20th century. The definition also serves to contrast philanthropy with business endeavors, which are private initiatives for private good, e.g., focusing on material gain, and with government endeavors, which are public initiatives for public good, e.g., focusing on provision of public services.[not verified in body] A person who practices philanthropy is called a philanthropist.

Philanthropy has distinguishing characteristics separate from charity; not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa, though there is a recognized degree of overlap in practice. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem—the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.



The most conventional modern definition, according to the Catalogue for Philanthropy, is "private initiatives, for public good, focusing on quality of life".[1] This combines the social scientific aspect developed in the century with the original humanistic tradition, and serves to contrast philanthropy with business (private initiatives for private good, focusing on material prosperity) and government (public initiatives for public good, focusing on law and order). These distinctions have been analyzed by Olivier Zunz,[2][not in citation given] and others.[who?]


In the first century BCE, both paideia and philanthrôpía were translated into Latin by the single word humanity, which was also understood to be the core of liberal education study humanities, the studies of humanity, or simply "the humanities." In the second century CE, Plutarch used the concept of philanthrôpía to describe superior human beings. This Classically synonymous troika, of philanthropy, the humanities, and liberal education, declined with the replacement of the classical world by Christianity. During the Middle Ages, philanthrôpía was superseded by Caritas charity, selfless love, valued for salvation. Philanthropy was modernized by Sir Francis Bacon in the 1600s, who is largely credited with preventing the word from being owned by horticulture. Bacon considered philanthrôpía to be synonymous with "goodness", which correlated with the Aristotelian conception of virtue, as consciously instilled habits of good behavior.[3][full citation needed] Then in the 1700s, an influential lexical figurehead by the name of Samuel Johnson simply defined philanthropy as "love of mankind; good nature".[4] This definition still survives today and is often cited more gender-neutrally as the "love of humanity." However, it was Noah Webster who would more accurately reflect the word usage in American English.[5]

Modern philanthropyEdit

The Foundling Hospital. The building has been demolished.

In London prior to the 18th century, parochial and civic charities were typically established by posthumous bequests and operated by local church parises (such as St Dionis Backchurch) or guilds (such as the Carpenters' Company). During the 18th century, however, "a more activist and explicitly Protestant tradition of direct charitable engagement during life" took hold, exemplified by the creation of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Societies for the Reformation of Manners.[6]

In 1739, Captain Thomas Coram, appalled by the number of abandoned children living on the streets of London, received a royal charter to establish the Foundling Hospital to look after these unwanted orphans in Lamb's Conduit Fields, Bloomsbury.[7] This was "the first children's charity in the country, and one that 'set the pattern for incorporated associational charities' in general."[7] The hospital "marked the first great milestone in the creation of these new-style charities."[6]

Jonas Hanway, another notable philanthropist of the era, established The Marine Society in 1756 as the first seafarer's charity, in a bid to aid the recruitment of men to the navy.[8] By 1763, the society had recruited over 10,000 men and it was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1772. Hanway was also instrumental in establishing the Magdalen Hospital to rehabilitate prostitutes. These organizations were funded by subscription and run as voluntary associations. They raised public awareness of their activities through the emerging popular press and were generally held in high social regard—some charities received state recognition in the form of the Royal Charter.

Philanthropists, such as anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, began to adopt active campaigning roles, where they would champion a cause and lobby the government for legislative change. This included organized campaigns against the ill treatment of animals and children and the campaign that eventually succeeded in ending the slave trade throughout the British Empire at the turn of the 19th century.

Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy. Puck magazine cartoon by Louis Dalrymple, 1903

During the 19th century, a profusion of charitable organizations was set up to alleviate the awful conditions of the working class in the slums. The Labourer's Friend Society, chaired by Lord Shaftesbury in the United Kingdom in 1830, was set up to improve working class conditions. This included the promotion of allotment of land to labourers for "cottage husbandry" that later became the allotment movement, and in 1844 it became the first Model Dwellings Company—an organization that sought to improve the housing conditions of the working classes by building new homes for them, while at the same time receiving a competitive rate of return on any investment. This was one of the first housing associations, a philanthropic endeavor that flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, brought about by the growth of the middle class. Later associations included the Peabody Trust, and the Guinness Trust. The principle of philanthropic intention with capitalist return was given the label "five per cent philanthropy."[9][10]

In 1863, the Swiss businessman Henry Dunant used his personal fortune to finding the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, which became the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Dunant personally led Red Cross delegations that treated soldiers. He shared the first Nobel Peace Prize for this work in 1901.[11]

Philanthropy became a very fashionable activity among the expanding middle classes in Britain and America. Octavia Hill and John Ruskin were an important force behind the development of social housing and Andrew Carnegie exemplified the large-scale philanthropy of the newly rich in industrialized America. In Gospel of Wealth (1889), Carnegie wrote about the responsibilities of great wealth and the importance of social justice. He established public libraries throughout the English-speaking countries[12] as well as contributing large sums to schools and universities. Other American philanthropists of the early 20th century were John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford. The sheer size of their endowments directed their attention to addressing the causes and instruments, as distinct from the symptoms and expressions, of social problems and cultural opportunities.[2][not in citation given]

21st century effortsEdit

Studies by The Chronicle of Philanthropy have indicated that the rich—those making over $100,000 a year—give a smaller share of their income[clarification needed] to charity (4.2% on average) than those making $50,000–$100,000 a year.[13][14]

Trends in philanthropy have been affected in various ways by a technological and cultural change. Today, many donations are made through the Internet (see also donation statistics).[15]

Organizations supportingEdit

A variety of organizations that have been created over the decades to study, support, and evaluate practical philanthropic endeavors and ideas exist today and continue research into philanthropy, analysis of its trends, and student-training for its occupations and further study.

John D. Rockefeller in 1885
Front building of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle

Further readingEdit

The following are suggested articles for further reading, in particular, reputable sources with an emphasis on material that might improve the content of the article. The format used is intended to make each citation reference-ready.

  • Aknin, Lara B.; Barrington-Leigh, Christopher P.; Dunn, Elizabeth W.; Helliwell, John F.; Burns, Justine; Biswas-Diener, Robert; Kemeza, Imelda; Nyende, Paul; Ashton-James, Claire E. & Norton, Michael I. (2013). "Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence For a Psychological Universal." (print, online). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 104 (4, April): 635–652. doi:10.1037/a0031578. Retrieved 29 January 2016. "This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: Human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). …survey data from 136 countries were examined and showed that prosocial spending is associated with greater happiness around the world, in poor and rich countries alike. …recalling a past instance of prosocial spending has a causal impact on happiness across countries that differ greatly in terms of wealth (Canada, Uganda, and India). …participants in Canada and South Africa randomly assigned to buy items for charity reported higher levels of positive affect than participants assigned to buy the same items for themselves, even… [without] an opportunity to build or strengthen social ties. Our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts." 
  • Zunz, Olivier (2011). Philanthropy in America, A History: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press. ISBN 1400839416. Archived from the original on October 17, 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2016. 
  • Sulek, Marty (2010). "On the Classical Meaning of Philanthrôpía". Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 39 (3): 385–408.  [Citation originally appeared attached to the Scottish Enlightenment in the "Modern philanthropy" section, but is clearly, rather, associated with material of the "Classical… " section.]
  • Dunn, E.W.; Aknin, L.B. & Norton, M.I. (2008). "Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness." (print, online). Science. Vol. 319 no. 5870, March 21. pp. 1687f. PMID 18356530. doi:10.1126/science.1150952. Retrieved 29 January 2016. "Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, we found that spending more of one's income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves. [Erratum in Science. 2009 May 29;324(5931):1143.]" 
  • McCully, George (2008). "Promethean Fire: The Archetype (Chapter I)". Philanthropy Reconsidered: Private Initiatives, Public Good, Quality of Life (A Catalogue for Philanthropy Publication). Bloomington, IN, USA: AuthorHouse (self-published). pp. 1–21. ISBN 1438905637. Archived from the original on August 26, 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2016. Chapter I subtitle: From its first coinage in ancient Greece, in Prometheus Bound, philanthropic meant "the love of humanity," or of what it is to be human, an educational and cultural ideal.  [Citation originally appeared attached to the Scottish Enlightenment in the "Modern philanthropy" section, but is clearly, rather, associated with material of the "Classical… " section. (Appears likely to be the un-cited source for the "Definitions" section and led content and for the "Classical… " section.)]
  • Beatty, Sally (2007). "Money: Families Wrestle With Closing Foundations" (online). The Wall Street Journal (April 17). Retrieved 29 January 2016. "Wealthy families are setting up new philanthropic foundations in increasing numbers, but they are also shutting them down at an accelerating pace. / Some of the biggest names in philanthropy are backing the idea of setting a time limit on their giving: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in December it will spend its entire endowment… within 50 years of the death of the last of its three current trustees, then close its doors." 
  • Martin, Hubert (1961). "The Concept of Philanthropia in Plutarch's Lives". American Journal of Philology. 82: 164–175.  [Citation originally appeared attached to the Scottish Enlightenment in the "Modern philanthropy" section, but is clearly, rather, associated with material of the "Classical… " section.]
  • Lester, Charles Edwards (1883). Lester's History of the United States: Illustrated in Its Five Great Periods: Colonization, Consolidation, Development, Achievement, Advancement. New York: P. F. Collier & Son. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  • Berman, Edward H. (1983). The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-873-95725-0. 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "What Is Philanthropy?", Catalogue for Philanthropy, accessed 16 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b Zunz, Olivier (2011). Philanthropy in America, A History: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press. ISBN 1400839416. Archived from the original on October 17, 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2016. [page needed]
  3. ^ Aristotle, & Irwin, T. (1985). Nicomachean ethics. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.[page needed]
  4. ^ Johnson, S. (1979). A dictionary of the English language. London: Times Books.
  5. ^ "Mitchell Kutney: Philanthropy is what sustains the charitable sector, not money". Blue & Green Tomorrow. 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2014-11-08. [better source needed]
  6. ^ a b "Background - Associational Charities". London Lives. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "The London Foundling Hospital". Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  8. ^ N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company: 2004), 313.
  9. ^ Siegel, Fred (1974). "Five Per Cent Philanthropy: An Account of Housing in Urban Areas Between 1840 and 1914. By John Nelson Tarn… [Book Review]". The Journal of Economic History. 34 (4, December): 1061f. doi:10.1017/S0022050700089683. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  10. ^ Tarn, John Nelson (1973). Five Per Cent Philanthropy: An Account of Housing in Urban Areas Between 1840 and 1914. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. xiv, 23, and passim. ISBN 0521085063. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  11. ^ "Henry Dunant". Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  12. ^ Abigail A. VanSlyck, "'The Utmost Amount of Effectiv [Sic] Accommodation': Andrew Carnegie and the Reform of the American Library", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1991) 50#4 pp. 359–383 in JSTOR.
  13. ^ Frank, Robert (August 20, 2012). "The Rich Are Less Charitable Than the Middle Class: Study". CNBC. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  14. ^ Kavoussi, Bonnie. "Rich People Give A Smaller Share Of Their Income To Charity Than Middle-Class Americans Do". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  15. ^ "The 2011 Online Giving Report, presented by Steve MacLaughlin, Jim O'Shaughnessy, and Allison Van Diest" (PDF). February 2012. Retrieved January 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External linksEdit