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 their 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. A philanthropist will engage in these humane acts of positivity no matter their financial or societal background.


The Benefits of Being a Philanthropist

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.

Engaging in philanthropy has been proven to improve the overall well-being of the philanthropist themselves, including:

  • Developing a stronger sense of empathy
  • Broadening your perspective on the world
  • Providing a meaningful purpose to life
  • Increasing one’s happiness and sense of optimism

The beneficiaries of charitable giving also experience vast benefits, as the gifts they receive are often life-changing.

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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Our enterprising, collaborative staff uses its philanthropic expertise to find the best possible options for our donors.

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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.

In addition to the increasing amount of philanthropic activity in modern society, donors are also innovating how they finance their charitable giving. These are just some of the ways donors are giving back today:

  • Donor-advised funds: A giving account established at a public charity that allows donors to make a charitable contribution and recommend grants from their fund over time.
  • Corporate-advised funds: Similar to a donor-advised fund, corporate-advised funds allow multiple donors to pool their assets into a centralized giving account to support the charities that matter most to them.
  • Impact investing: An investment strategy where donors intend to leave a measurable benefit to society or the environment while also generating a financial return.
  • Donating complex assets: Converting non-cash and non-publicly traded securities, such as cryptocurrencies and real estate, into funds that can be distributed for charitable purposes.


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.


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


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.

Is it hard to become a philanthropist?

No, it is not hard to become a philanthropist. Anyone who donates their time, expertise or money can be considered a philanthropist. If you practice this for long enough, you may be considered a philanthropist by others.

What is the difference between charity and philanthropy?

The main difference between charity and philanthropy is that charity is usually focused on short-term relief, while philanthropy aims for long-term impact. Acts of charity can include donating clothes to a local school drive or donating money to an environmental fund, while acts of philanthropy can include building schools or libraries.

What are the different types of philanthropists?

In general, there are seven different types of philanthropists. Each type is motivated by different needs which encourage their philanthropic efforts.

  • Communitarian: Being a philanthropist makes sense.
  • Devout: Being a philanthropist is the will of a higher power.
  • Investor: Being a philanthropist is good business.
  • Socialite: Being a philanthropist is fun.
  • Repayer: Being a philanthropist in return of other humane acts.
  • Altruist: Being a philanthropist feels right.
  • Dynast: Being a philanthropist is a family tradition.

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. You can also read our Grants in Action series to see examples how NPT’s donors are supporting the causes they care most about.

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