Philanthropy 101: The Basics of Giving


Philanthropy is an age-old practice that has been around for thousands of years. Even at its earliest stages, the motives to give were similar to those we see today. Many historic figures gave to causes out of the goodness of their heart, while others did so to gain fame, recognition or pleasure from the gods.

We see a similar rationale today. Philanthropy is alive and well today and we still see a variety of reasons people feel propelled to give. Let’s look at some of the basics of philanthropy.

Philanthropy Defined

Philanthropy is a desire to give to better the human race. If we look at the Greek origins of the word, “philos” means love or loving and “anthropos” means human, so to be a philanthropist you must love humankind. If you choose to be a philanthropist you will make a donation, usually monetarily, to improve the welfare of the humans around you. You can look at pure philanthropy as altruistic if you can determine there is no ulterior motive to someone’s giving. In addition to money, people can give property, real estate or work to further a cause they believe in.

Related: 9 Steps to Start a Charity

Philanthropy vs. Charity

Even though you will commonly hear these two terms used interchangeably, there are real differences between philanthropy and charity, but they work together. You can differentiate the two by thinking about charity as a short term solution and philanthropy as the long term solution. Charity is usually an emotional response driven by empathy or compassion for suffering. Both are vital to serving humans in need, but they accomplish different things.

Let’s look at an example. A charitable response to famine would be to deliver food and water to those who are in need. A philanthropic response would be to educate those suffering people about improved farming techniques to improve their ability to raise crops. It would also include training them on how to dig wells and transport water to their village. Charity meets the immediate need while philanthropy aims to solve the underlying problem. Philanthropy requires a great deal of planning and strategy to accomplish real change.

Philanthropy Done Right

We have numerous modern-day philanthropists we can look to for an example of what philanthropy can do. One well-known philanthropist of the early 1900s was Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Carnegie was heard saying that “A man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” He must have believed that motto because he lived it. Carnegie had a passion for education and is responsible for donating the funds to help build almost 3,000 libraries across the country. He also worked with several universities.

The Ford Foundation was started by Henry Ford’s son and is responsible for building and strengthening democracy, education and economic issues around the world.

Chris Sacca, a Californian philanthropist, shifted his focus from his successful venture capitalism to raising funds and awareness for charities focused on climate change and global environmental issues.

Charity:water is one organization Sacca participates in and works to bring clean drinking water to communities in need. According to The National Philanthropic Trust (NPT), Americans gave $427.71 billion dollars to charity in 2018. That is impressive.

Philanthropy and Controversy

Philanthropists can choose to support whatever cause they feel passionate about whether it is popular or unpopular, well supported or controversial. This is a huge benefit because important issues that are subject to controversy can be overlooked by the government and the public. For example, in the late 80s The Aaron Diamond Foundation began spending millions each year on Aids and HIV research. The public and the government were still unsure about how to handle the Aids epidemic so it was vital that a neutral third party step in to help. Because of this bold step our society as a whole benefitted.

How to Become a Philanthropist

Philanthropy is not only for the wealthy. If you want to become a philanthropist you can do it with some careful planning and research. There are numerous guides you can find online to walk you through each step. However, here are 3 crucial things you should do as you plan your philanthropic interests.

  1. Write down the causes you are passionate about. Narrow your list to your top 3
  2. Decide when you want to give. It would be wise to consult with your financial advisor to figure out whether it would be best to give annually or monthly.
  3. Decide what to give. Will you donate money, time, property, real estate, etc.? There are so many ways you can build an organization. You will get a lot more out of your service if you do more than just sign a check. Think about donating your time and talents to the organization as well. You can serve as a board member or representative to further the movement.

Philanthropy can be for everyone. Humankind will benefit from any amount that you have to give. It is a mindset that can become life-changing.