Philanthropy is the voluntary act of donating money or goods, or providing some other support to a charitable cause, usually over an extended period of time. Philanthropy is a major source of income for artistic, musical, religious, and humanitarian causes, as well as educational institutions ranging from schools and universities to libararies and museums. In a more fundamental sense, philanthropy may encompass any altruistic activity which is intended to promote good or improve human quality of life. Someone who is well known for practicing philanthropy may be called a philanthropist. Although such individuals are often very wealthy, people may nevertheless perform philanthropic acts without possessing great wealth. Ultimately, the value of philanthropy lies in recognizing that we all have responsibility to society as a whole, and that we should use our talents and the fruits thereof, not primarily for our own personal benefit but for the sake of all.
Philanthropy is the voluntary act of donating extensive financial or material support to a charitable organization. By the conventional definition of philanthropy, donations are dedicated to a narrowly defined cause and the donation is targeted to make a recognizable change in social conditions. This often necessitates large donations and financial support sustained over time.
Many non-wealthy persons have dedicated—thus, donated—substantial portions of their time, effort, and wealth to charitable causes. These people are not typically described as philanthropists because individual effort alone is seldom recognized as instigating significant change. These people are thought of as charitable workers, but some wish to recognize these people as philanthropists in honor of their efforts.
The need for a large financial commitment creates a distinction between philanthropy and "charitable giving," which typically plays a supporting role in a charitable organization initiated by someone else. Thus, the conventional usage of "philanthropy" applies mainly to wealthy persons, and sometimes to a trust created by a wealthy person with a particular cause or objective targeted.
Philosophical views on philanthropy
Philanthropy is not always viewed as a universal good. Notable thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand opposed philanthropy on philosophical grounds, connecting it with the idea of the weak subsisting from the strong, a view sometimes endorsed by those who oppose government welfare programs.
The purpose of philanthropy is also debated. Some equate philanthropy with benevolence and charity for the poor and needy. Others hold that philanthropy can be any altruistic giving towards any kind of social need that is not served by the market.
Others suggest that philanthropy can be a means to build community by growing community funds and providing vehicles for support. When communities see themselves as being resource-rich instead of asset-poor, they are in a better position to solve community-wide problems.
Political views on philanthropy
Philanthropy is a private sector means of effecting social change without recourse to government mechanisms, such as those represented by aid programs.
However, governments are often supportive of philanthropic efforts. In many countries, those who donate money to a charity are given a tax exemption. On the other hand, some governments are suspicious of philanthropic activities as possible efforts to gain influence by non-governmental organizations.
Social activism and philanthropy
Social activists frequently criticize philanthropic contributions by corporations whom activists consider "suspect." An example is the Harvard, Exxon, and South Africa case. Harvard University divested itself of Exxon stock after pressure and accusations that Exxon's doing business in South Africa contributed to apartheid. Exxon did in fact stop doing business in South Africa, as did other companies, thereby costing employees their jobs and South Africa several contributors to a healthy economy. On the other hand, the international embargo against South Africa finally forced the white minority to grant political and human rights to its black and colored citizens.
In the United States, there is a strong tradition of philanthropy. Numerous wealthy people, most of whom gained their wealth through their own hard work, return large portions of their riches to society through philanthropic foundations, the establishment of libraries and educational institutions, support for the arts, medical research, and so forth, all greatly beneficial to society as a whole. One explanation for the abundance of philanthropic activity in the U.S. and Protestant Europe lies in the Calvinist ethic. People who work hard and receive much financial benefit, according to this doctrine, view themselves as the "elect," blessed by God with abundance, which they should then share with others.
Examples of well-known philanthropists include:
- Paul Allen - co-founder of Microsoft; gave $30 million in grants annually through the Allen Foundation.
- Walter Annenberg - publisher and art collector; established the Annenberg Foundation and School for Communication; donated millions of dollars to museums, libraries, schools, and hospitals; and donated his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Sir Richard Branson - patron of the International Rescue Corps.
- Warren Buffet - pledged $30.7 billion worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
- Nicholas Murray Butler - president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 1925 to 1945.
- George Cadbury - helped establish Birmingham Civic Society, fought for workers' rights.
- Andrew Carnegie - Donated money to build over 2,500 libraries worldwide. Founder of the Carnegie Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- Bill Cosby - winner of the Bob Hope Humanitarian award for his work in education.
- James H. Dooley - gave funds for the construction of the Virginia Commonwealth University hospital (Dooley Hospital).
- Anthony J. Drexel - founder of Drexel University.
- Edsel Ford - co-founder of the Ford Foundation.
- Henry Ford - co-founder of the Ford Foundation.
- Benjamin Franklin - founder of the first public library.
- Bill Gates - co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Melinda Gates - co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- David Geffen - supports AIDS and other medical research; pledged $200 million to the University of California-Los Angeles Medical School.
- J. Paul Getty - funded the construction of the Getty Villa, the original Getty Museum, and donated his art collection to it. Upon his death, left his fortune to the Getty Trust to continue operating the Museum, which eventually expanded to the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
- Milton Hershey - gave $50 million to establish the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
- Catherine T. MacArthur - co-founder of the MacArthur Foundation.
- John D. MacArthur - co-founder of the MacArthur Foundation.
- Paul Mellon - major benefactor of arts and education, and co-founder of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Ailsa Mellon-Bruce - co-founder of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Paul Newman - founded Newman's Own brand of food products, which donates all proceeds to charities.
- George Peabody - supporter of the arts; donated over $8 million in his lifetime to various Peabody Institutes.
- Linus Pauling - donated time and effort and spent personal funds to bring about the worldwide ban on above ground nuclear weapons testing.
- Charles Pratt - founder of Pratt Institute.
- John D. Rockefeller - founder of the Rockefeller Foundation and Rockefeller University.
- John D. Rockefeller, Jr. - dramatically expanded the Rockefeller Foundation and Rockefeller University. He also bought and then donated the land in Manhattan upon which the United Nations headquarters was built.
- John D. Rockefeller III - major third-generation Rockefeller philanthropist and founder of the Asia Society (1956), the Population Council (1952) and a reconstituted Japan Society, he was chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation for twenty years. He established the Rockefeller Public Service Awards in 1958. Among his many other achievements, he was the driving force behind the construction of the landmark Lincoln Center, built between 1959 and 1966, in New York City.
- Winthrop Rockefeller - provided funding for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which pays for major projects around the state of Arkansas.
- Sir Run Run Shaw - established the Shaw Prize for scientists working in mathematics, life and medical sciences, and astronomy.
- George Soros - has given over $4 billion to causes such as Transparency International and combating Apartheid.
- Ted Turner - gave $1 billion to found the UN Foundation.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt - funded Vanderbilt University.
- William Henry Vanderbilt - co-founder of the Metropolitan Opera.
- A Bourgeois Duty: Philanthropy, 1896-1919 — Illustrated historical essay
- Development Ratings - recommending development charities to philanthropists
- A Discussion with Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates about the Importance of Philanthropy
- List of celebrity philanthropists
- Well-known American philanthropists
- OnPhilanthropy - A Global Resource for Nonprofit Professionals
- Philanthropy related links in Australia
- Short overview: "How Philanthropy Works"
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