What is a Philanthropist?

Wherever you find someone helping others, you will find a philanthropist.

A philanthropist is anyone who gives of their time, talent or treasure to make positive change happen for humanity regardless of wealth or status.

What is Philanthropy?

Philanthropy is a critically important part of any free society. It focuses on the elimination of social problems at the source, rather than addressing the symptoms of those problems alone. Philanthropy provides opportunities for education, relief, growth and success that may never have been available otherwise.

Donating to a county-wide food bank, financially supporting organizations on the frontline of the global COVID-19 pandemic or volunteering at a local library’s after-school program are all examples of how philanthropic practice increases quality of life, strengthens communal bonds and elevates others.

History of Philanthropy

Philanthropy is defined as love for humankind. The word itself is first found in the works of the Greek playwright Aeschylus more than 2,500 years ago, but the combined concept of “philos” (loving) and “anthropos” (humankind) existed long before the invention of the written word. From the very beginning, civilizations around the world were built with the idea that empathy— caring for and understanding the needs of others—was critical to shared survival and growth.

Modern philanthropy began to take shape in the middle of the 19th century with the trailblazing generosity of George Peabody, Andrew Carnegie, and many others. Over the ensuing decades, captains of industry and the growing middle class used their collective power to address societal challenges in transformative ways.

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A Modern Approach

Modern philanthropy aims to improve the quality of life for humanity through giving. Year after year, the number of individuals engaging in active philanthropy grows exponentially. Public figures like Warren Buffet, along with many other charitable donors found on the Forbes list of top givers bring attention to causes impacting communities across the globe through the promotion of social change.

National Philanthropic Trust curates statistics on the collective power of charitable efforts. As the numbers bear out, the collective power of giving is immense.

Is Philanthropy Right for Me?

Most people engage in philanthropy on a regular basis, though they may have different names for it. If you support fundraising efforts at work or at school, put money aside from your paycheck into a workplace donor-advised fund, volunteer in your church or in the community, or interact with crowd-sourcing campaigns in the digital sphere – you are a philanthropist.

The Benefits of a Giving Habit

Over time, philanthropic giving can become a regular habit. For those who wish to increase the frequency and quantity of their giving, various vehicles exist to guide donors. Foundations, charitable trusts and donor-advised funds are some of the ways donors can engage in flexible philanthropy geared towards generational giving, immediate and regular grant recommendations, and growing your options for supporting causes important to you now and into the future.

Charitable giving has never been more important. -Eileen Heisman, President & CEO

Philanthropy provides a series of benefits for both giver and receiver. For the beneficiary of a grant or donation, the gift can be literally life changing. For the donor, philanthropy can provide a greater sense of happiness and personal fulfillment driven by a love of community, altruism, religious and personal values, family legacy or all the above.


Philanthropy and Donor-Advised Funds

Beyond the significant health benefits of giving, practical benefits exist for those who make a habit of giving on a regular basis. Donor-advised fund (DAF) donors have a series advantages provided via tax law. By engaging in charitable giving through a DAF, more of your income and assets may be used to fund causes important to you. Read more about the tax advantages of DAFs.

Donor-advised funds provide an exceptionally flexible model for giving. Grants recommended from existing DAF accounts can be as targeted as $250.00, or as large as the donor’s account and imagination allows. Impact investing, a growing sector of DAF attention, doubles down on philanthropic intent by putting your charitable assets to work to generate a positive social return in addition to a financial one.

Giving Back: Careers and Volunteers

Involvement in philanthropy need not be limited by financial generosity alone. Local charitable organizations, nonprofits and community groups regularly offer volunteer opportunities for those willing to give of their time and experience. If this is of interest, search for local or regional groups which align with your personal passions and values.

These same organizations also search for mission-driven professionals to assist their teams in increasing philanthropy in society. If you are interested in finding a career in the philanthropy industry with National Philanthropic Trust, visit our careers page.

First Steps and Next Steps

There is no wrong way to be a philanthropist. Whether you are continuing your journey of giving or just getting started, the result of a charitable act is a more prosperous, connected and enlightened world.

For further reading, explore the rest of our Philanthropic Resources or learn about NPT’s donor-advised fund.

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Discover the differences and similarities between a DAF and a private foundation.
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