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James A. Field, Jr., and

Tim Matthewson

The idea of philanthropy, of concern for the welfare of the human race, has from the beginning been so tightly interwoven with other aspects of the American experience that the strand is difficult to disentangle. To many, the survival of the colonies and the success of the new nation were works of philanthropy: John Winthrop, colonial governor of Massachusetts, spoke of the "city on a hill"; aspiring revolutionaries felt themselves to be forwarding "humanity's extended cause"; to the young Herman Melville "national selfishness [was] unbounded philanthropy"; to Abraham Lincoln the nation was the last best hope of earth. In the active sense, as well, the philanthropic purpose appeared with the first attempts at colonization. The Virginia Company and Massachusetts Bay Company charters included the propagation of the Christian religion among the principal ends of these enterprises; this aim was reflected in the work of John Eliot, the apostle to the Indians, and in the concern of Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall for the evangelization of Mexico.

Despite this background, accomplishments during the colonial period were small: the requirements of survival governed; missionary work among the Indians proved unrewarding and among black slaves was precluded as an interference with local self-government. The development of active American philanthropy dates from the first half-century of independence, which in this area, as in so many others, imposed an abiding structure upon American attitudes and institutions. Success in the Revolution produced a confidence in an American worldview in which philanthropy and self-interest happily appeared to coincide, and which led, in the external sphere, to a beginning export of American answers to the problems of the human race. In politics this brought forth a bias in favor of liberal revolution, self-determination, and economic freedom that would inform the conduct of foreign affairs through the period of Woodrow Wilson's missionary diplomacy, and beyond.

Faith in applied science and in the educability of mankind encouraged Americans to take service with foreign rulers in order to teach a generalized modernity, which focused in the early years on military skills, agriculture, and the mechanic arts. While proffering the gift of salvation, the greatest gift of all, an expanding foreign missionary movement took with it powerful cultural influences: literacy, educational systems, new techniques, civil servants, and advisers. With the growing wealth of America there developed a notable philanthropy in the narrower sense of the giving of money or goods or skills, first for the relief of disaster and subsequently for measures of constructive social policy and cultural preservation. Originally manifested in extemporized individual or group activity, these endeavors in time became institutionalized in such organizations as the American Red Cross and the major foundations, while their political and modernizing aspects attracted increased government participation.

The efforts to transfer American ideas, skills, and institutions to those "dwelling in darkness" had, prior to the development of American funding agencies, an inevitable admixture of careerism; nevertheless, the early work of individuals established precedents on which organized philanthropy, with its inherited assumption of the malleability of mankind, could subsequently build. The latter years of the eighteenth century saw the work of the American Tory, Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, in Bavarian administrative reform, and John Paul Jones's brief command of the Russian Black Sea fleet. The French Revolution attracted the helpful efforts of Joel Barlow, Thomas Paine, and Robert Fulton. New waves of revolution, first in the New World and then in the Old World, emphasized the relation between military skills and the universal benefits of freedom and self-determination: Americans held important posts in the revolutionary navies of Argentina and Mexico; the Greek War of Independence drew American philhellenes across the Atlantic; American naval constructors rebuilt the Ottoman navy after Navarino.


Over its course, American philanthropy has often reflected constitutional scruples about separation of powers. As secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson urged that, if government were to engage in philanthropy, it should be state governmentsnot the federal governmentthat should take up the cause. In 17931794 refugees from the black revolution in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) received assistance from a mixture of private, state, and federal funds. In 1812, Congress appropriated $50,000 for earthquake victims in Venezuela. Generally, however, reservations as to the constitutional propriety of federal government action prevailed, the work remained voluntary, and help from the United States was limited to the occasional loan of a public ship to transport and distribute relief supplies.

Outside the area of federal funding, however, the situation was less clear-cut and constitutional scruples have not been so engaged. Rather than charge the federal government, Jefferson paid out of his own pocket for the transport of different types of plants to further agriculture while he tried via personal correspondence and private groups such as the American Philosophical Society to advance knowledge to those who would benefit, domestic and international. President Andrew Jackson, "acting in his private capacity," recommended a naval constructor to the Turks, and the Turkish request for agricultural experts brought favorable response from the Department of State. In various far places, missionaries, as citizens residing abroad, by mid-century became the occasional beneficiaries of diplomatic interposition or show of naval force, while their local knowledge at times made them helpful in diplomacy, as in the missions of Caleb Cushing to China and of Matthew C. Perry to Japan.

As contact with non-European societies increased, Americans served as generals in the Afghan and Chinese armies and as diplomatic representatives of the Hawaiian kingdom and the Chinese empire. The early nineteenth century also saw the first efforts to encourage economic modernization: the attempts of William Maclure to improve Spanish agriculture (1819) and the condition of the Mexican Indians (1828) proved abortive, but the 1840s witnessed the railroad building of G. W. Whistler in Russia and the response of American agronomists to a Turkish request for assistance in the introduction of cotton culture.

In contrast to the sporadic work of individuals in the antebellum years was the organized and continuing effort of the foreign missionary movement. The Reverend Samuel Hopkins's ideas of "disinterested benevolence," the sense of urgency deriving from the felt imminence of the millennium, new knowledge of far places, and the example of Great Britain stimulated interest in overseas evangelism: the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810 was followed by that of denominational boards. From the small beginnings of the mission to India the work grew rapidly: by 1860 the American Board alone had deployed 844 men and women overseas, and the country's expenditures on foreign missions, concentrated on the Indian subcontinent and the Near East, exceeded $500,000 a year.

The effort to evangelize the world had significant secondary consequences. The emphasis on a Bible religion called for the translation of Scripture into the vernacular and stimulated the founding of schools. The imperative to do good and the need for access to closed societies encouraged the dispatch of medical missionaries: Peter Parker's dispensary at Canton in China, founded in the 1830s, was the first of many missionary-supported health care centers. The stress on the importance of the individual, whether in the conversion experience, in education, or in medical care, was emphasized, in a manner startling to the traditional societies, by the prominent role of women in mission work and by the early establishment of schools for girls; from this attitude also stemmed the attacks on caste, polygamy, suttee, prostitution, foot binding, opium, and rum.

But of all these by-products of the missionary enterprise, work in education proved the most important. The success of lower schools created a demand for more advanced instruction, a prospect so congenial to American preconceptions that the 1860s brought the founding of overseas colleges at Constantinople and Beirut. And whether in the area of conversion, medicine, education, or the status of women, the missionary enterprise emphasized not only the American view of the importance of the individual but also the idea of change, and of the possibility of breaking through layers of custom into a more open and modern world.

The emergence of a free black population in the United States following the Revolution had led an unstable coalition of antislavery advocates and slaveholders to found the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1817, which sought to establish a refuge for free black men and women on the African coast and to further the evangelization of Africa. Even many genuine evangelicals believed that blacks and whites could not live together peaceably on the basis of equality, so strong was the racism prevalent in the North and South. Expecting black immigrants to serve as missionaries to Africa, the ACS helped purchase the land for Liberia in 1821 and the settlement of Monrovia was established in 1822. By the eve of the Civil War, some 15,000 free black men and women lived in Liberia, about 12,000 of them having voluntarily immigrated with the assistance of the ACS. The ACS had joined with state and federal governments to form the freedman's colony on the African coast, modeling their plan on the British colony for free blacks at Sierra Leone.

The period before the Civil War also saw the development of a tradition of relief of disaster, whether natural or human-made. In 1816 and 1825 the citizens of Boston and New York assisted Canadian victims of great conflagrations. Support of the Greek War of Independence in the years after 1823 led not only to the departure of volunteers but also to contributions totaling perhaps $250,000 and to the relief work of Samuel Gridley Howe. In the 1830s and again two decades later, famine relief was sent to the Cape Verde Islands. Despite the distractions of the Mexican War, the years 18471848 saw the greatest effort thus far, as more than $1 million worth of supplies was sent to the victims of the great Irish famine in more than a score of ships, two of which were on loan from the U.S. Navy. In 1860, when civil war and massacres in Lebanon led to a major refugee problem, missionary influence brought about the creation of an Anglo-American relief committee and the dispatch of supplies by naval store ship. In 18621863, at the height of the American Civil War, further funds were raised in response to another failure of the Irish potato crop, while humanitarianism and policy combined to provide $250,000 to assist Lancashire mill operatives suffering from the cotton famine.

Like much else in postCivil War America, the philanthropic effort grew larger, richer, and more highly organized, while the transfer of skills to countries striving to modernize themselves continued on an expanded scale. American military men served the governments of Egypt, China, Japan, and Korea; and Americans advised the Japanese Foreign Office, the king of Korea, the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese viceroy Li Hungchang. In economic development, mining engineers like Raphael Pumpelly and agronomists like Horace Capron provided their expertise. In Japan, American teachers contributed notably to the new educational structure; in China, W. A. P. Martin became the first president of the Imperial University in Peking; in Siam, S. G. McFarland served as head of the royal school in Bangkok and superintendent of public instruction.

Although many of the teachers were laymen, some of the most distinguishedMartin and McFarland, for examplewere products of the foreign missionary movement, which in these years increasingly concentrated its efforts on East Asia. Assisted by their new allies from the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions and the Young Men's Christian Association, and supported by large gifts from the new fortunes of William E. Dodge, John F. Goucher, H. J. Heinz, John D. Rockefeller, and Louis H. Severance, the missionaries continued to export, together with their sectarian versions of God's word, their American bias in favor of modernization, resource development, health care, and education.

By the end of the century the effort overseas had created a network of Christian colleges reaching from the Balkans to Japan and had opened wide, for those who wished to enter, the doors to Western knowledge and to informed participation in the activities of an increasingly westernized world. So valued, indeed, had the educational enterprise become, that governments came to embrace the cause, as in proposals within the administration of Abraham Lincoln for the establishment of a Sino-American college, in the Chinese employment of the remitted excess of the Boxer Rebellion indemnity, and much later (and most notably) in the Fulbright Act of 1946, which transmuted overseas war surplus into an extensive program of educational exchanges.

If the missionary movement and its associated enterprises provided the chief vehicle for late nineteenth-century philanthropy in Asia, the new wealth deriving from finance and industry also found outlets in the Old World. In this area in the 1860s the pioneer modern philanthropist George Peabody led with gifts, in part intended to diminish Civil War tensions, of $2.5 million for English working-class housing. A concern for the preservation of other countries' valued pasts was evidenced in the founding of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (1881) and the American Academy in Rome (1894). These years also saw the beginning of gifts by immigrants who had prospered in the United States to churches, libraries, orphanages, and the like in their countries of origin. With the new century the social concern evidenced in the Peabody gift reappeared in the contribution of Edward and Julia Tuck, retired in France, of a hospital, school, and park to the environs of Paris, and in the work of Joseph Fels, who, abandoning the manufacture of soap, spent largely to promote the single-tax doctrine abroad.

A similar solicitude for the social and cultural improvement of the advanced countries of western Europe informed the philanthropies of a most successful immigrant, Andrew Carnegie. Beginning in 1873 with a gift of baths to his Scottish birthplace, Carnegie subsequently gave Dunfermline a library, a park, and an endowment. His contribution of public libraries to American towns and colleges was repeated abroad; 660 in Great Britain and Ireland, 156 in Canada, and others in other dominions and colonies. In 1901 Carnegie gave $10 million to revive the Scottish universities, and in 1913 a like sum for the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust for "the improvement of the well-being of the masses." His gifts to the British Empire totaled $62 million.

For many philanthropists, Carnegie's philosophy regarding philanthropy remains the essence of the philanthropic ideal, as spelled out in The Gospel of Wealth (1900):

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: first, to set an example of modest unostentatious living, shunning display; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds which he is strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.

Carnegie spent his later years implementing this ideal and in the process gave new shape to American philanthropy. His grants to Marie Curie and Robert Koch inaugurated American support of foreign scientific research. Transcending all national boundaries and reflecting the aspirations of the Progressive Era, he supported the peace and arbitration movements, as evidenced in his 1907 gift of the Hague Peace Palace and (following Edwin Ginn's establishment in 1910 of the World Peace Foundation) in the $10 million Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for "the speedy abolition of international war between the so-called civilized nations."

In contrast with the evangelical effort in the non-European world and the projects of individual donors in Europe and Canada, the relief of disaster long depended on the efforts of individuals on the spot and ad hoc appeals to the public at large. Such traditional methods provided relief for victims of revolution in Crete (1866) and for France during the Franco-Prussian War. On various occasions in the 1870s and 1880s missionary groups worked to mitigate hunger in Persia, China, and Turkey. But by this time new agencies were assuming an important role. A vigorous campaign by the New York Herald spurred relief of the Irish famine of 1880. Some $1 million in goods and services contributed to help victims of the Russian famine of 1892 owed much to the support of Western flour interests, concerned both for humanity and for the agricultural price level, and to the energy of Louis Klopsch, editor of the Christian Herald, whose subsequent campaignsfor example, in the Indian famines of 1897 and 1900raised in the course of fifteen years more than $3 million in gifts averaging less than $3. Under the leadership of Clara Barton and with presidential support, the American National Red Cross (1881) provided both funds and an increasing continuity of administration for the relief of disaster abroad as well as at home.

Generally speaking, American relief efforts in the years before 1914 were unaffected by political developments. Famines in Japan and China drew generous response, but sympathy for Russia was seriously diminished by end-of-the-century violence against Russian Jews. In 18951896 concern for Armenian victims of Turkish atrocities led to congressional agitation for American intervention; and in 18971898 the collection of funds for Cuban relief was encouraged by President William McKinley, among others, in the hope of dampening pressures to intervene.


During the twentieth century, American philanthropy was increasingly influenced by American foreign policy while the philanthropic ideal exerted a powerful influence on the formulation of foreign policy. Before World War I, as European colonial powers sought to acquire territory in the Americas, federal policymakers sought to prevent European interventions in the Caribbean and Philippines, which led them to fund public works projects and schools in the region. The Messina earthquake of 1908 resulted in an unprecedented congressional appropriation of $800,000 and a reconstruction program supervised by American naval personnel. And a public-private partnership resulted in a proactive agenda to prevent flooding in China. The agenda aimed to extend cooperation between the American Red Cross, the federal government, and private bankers.

World War I produced a vast outpouring of philanthropic activity abroad, and resulted in remarkable federal-state-private cooperation and cooperation of philanthropic and foreign policy agencies. Early in the war, the American Red Cross attempted to provide hospitals for both sides, but an upsurge of sympathy for Belgium and France produced a pro-Allied tilt to American philanthropy. In the United States there sprang up numerous pro-Allied relief groups, for care of the wounded, and for aid to widows and orphans. Most important was the feeding of nine million Belgians, as Americans contributed some $34.5 million, and established the worldwide reputation of its director, Herbert Hoover.

Following the American declaration of war, military and philanthropic mobilization marched together. A significant development was expansion of the Red Cross, which, with new leadership from finance and industry and vastly expanded membership and contributions, deployed some 6,000 workers to France and provided hospitals, relief supplies, and an antituberculosis campaign, as well as refugee resettlement. At the same time the newly founded American Friends Service Committee (1917) sent volunteers to help with reconstruction.

Far from demobilizing after the war, American relief efforts expanded, owing to a large infusion of federal government funds. In 1919, with Europe suffering from destruction, starvation, and disease, Congress established the American Relief Administration (ARA) under Herbert Hoover with an appropriation of $100 million; within a year, public appeals yielded an additional $29 million for assistance. The ARA emphasized feeding undernourished children and delivered large quantities of food. The aid was intended, moreover, to bolster feeble East European parliamentary regimes against the Bolshevik threat.

Despite opposition to Bolshevism, famine in Russia brought forth a vigorous response. Congress raised $20 million, and by 1922 the ARA, under the direction of Colonel William N. Haskell, operated 18,000 feeding stations in Russia, as public and private contributions grew to a total of $80 million. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee contributed to the peoples of Poland and the Ukraine. Some liberal groups, suspicious of the ARA's presumed aims, contributed several million dollars more.

In the Near East, the Ottoman Empire was beset by revolutionary activity, ethnic conflict, and Greco-Turkish warfare. Some urged the United States to accept a philanthropic mandate for the former empire, but when Congress failed to respond, they turned to private initiative, and between 1918 and 1924, they raised almost $90 million for Near East relief. Moreover, chaotic conditions in Turkey, Persia, and Armenia stirred missionary interests to raise almost $7 million by 1917, while concern for coreligionists in central Europe and Palestine yielded contributions of $15 million from Jewish groups in America. Coincident with these initiatives, Chinese famine relief produced gifts from both churches and government, and gave rise to an extensive program of work relief.

Despite the Senate's rejection of the League of Nations, American philanthropists were not isolationist; indeed, between 1919 and 1939 the philanthropic expenditures of American voluntary agencies averaged $63.5 million annually. As at earlier times, the pattern of giving reflected cultural and ethnic affinities: Europe and Asia received the lion's share and Latin America lagged far behind, as did Africa. Protestants contributed 47 percent of the total, which focused on Europe, India, China, and Japan; nonsectarian donors contributed 34 percent of the total and focused on Europe, the Near East, and China; Jewish contributors gave 12 percent and it went mainly to Europe and Palestine; and the Catholic portion, 7 percent, went mainly to Europe and China.

During the interwar period, philanthropy's attention focused on problem areas of the world involving large population groups. Civil strife in Ireland drew forth from the Irish-American community generous contributions for relief, as well as for support of independence. American Jewish donors provided more than one-third of the out-side support for the Jewish community in Palestine, while it also aided the resettlement of some 200,000 Jews in the Ukraine, Crimea, Poland, and Germany. In the case of China, the American public responded to the disastrous famine of 1927 and the Yangtze flood of 1931.

Natural disasters also called forth American responses, the most dramatic being for the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, which left some 200,000 dead and 2 million homeless. The U.S. Asiatic Fleet and the Philippine Department of the Army sent supplies costing $6 million for immediate help; private donations totaled more than $12 million, including $1.5 million donated by Rockefeller foundations to help rebuild the University of Tokyo. American contributions amounted to almost three-quarters of total relief, but such generosity was vitiated by the ban on Japanese immigration, which was imposed by the same Congress that had funded emergency relief.

Between the wars, American foundations assumed an increasingly prominent role in the totality of American philanthropy, especially in cultural activities and health care. The Carnegie Endowment rebuilt libraries and supported large-scale academic studies of war. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., built the League of Nations Library at Geneva, while the Rockefeller Foundation financed foreign policy studies and international scholar exchanges. The Harkness family founded the Commonwealth Fund (1918), which dedicated itself to the welfare of mankind; and in 1930 the Pilgrim Trust gave $10 million to Great Britain for its "future well-being." The Rockefeller Foundation helped rebuild the University of Louvain and the cathedral at Rheims, and it under-wrote maintenance costs of Versailles and Fontainebleau, as it expanded the American schools at Athens and Rome.

Moreover, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and private individuals made sizable gifts to British, European, Canadian, and Mexican universities. Outside the Atlantic world, educational efforts were concentrated on the Near Eastern colleges, Hebrew University of Palestine, Chinese colleges, and surveys of educational programs in Africa and East Asia. James Loeb supported a psychiatric institute in Munich and George Eastman provided dental clinics in a number of European capitals. The Rockefeller Foundation funded work on parasitic and infectious diseases when it established Peking Union Medical College.

As world peace gave way in the late 1930s, American philanthropists watched with foreboding and, despite the U.S. Neutrality Acts, philanthropists engaged from the outset of the growing world crisis. In 1939 there developed a coordinated effort marked by cooperation between sectarian relief agencies, organized labor, and government. The Spanish Civil War drew American volunteers to the Loyalist side in opposition to fascism, but the Neutrality Acts dampened the spirit of giving and led to only $3 million raised for humanitarian assistance.

Relief funds followed the chronology of disaster and were sent to the Czechs after the Munich agreement, as well as the conquered Poles, Finns, Dutch, French, Greeks, and Russians as their countries were overrun. Especially notable was the rapid organization of a Russian relief effort and its impressive backing from professional and financial groups. In 1941 assistance provided to China by missionary organizations and the Chinese-American community gained new support when growing concern for Asia led to the organization of the United China Relief Agency with Eleanor Roosevelt as honorary chairperson.

By far the greatest assistance went to Britain, as the mother of parliaments stood alone against the Nazi threat. The Bundles for Britain campaign was followed by a dispatch of ambulances and medical personnel, and by the summer of 1941, British War Relief achieved backing from business and labor and raised more than $10 million and $90 million had been raised for overseas war relief by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Department of State coordinated these efforts and by 1945 the number of relief agencies had been reduced from 300 to 90.

The Axis occupation of Europe posed the difficult ethical question of whether the subject populations should be helped, for fear of assisting the occupying Axis powers. Although Herbert Hoover strongly urged feeding the victims of Nazi aggression, the opposite view prevailed. Only about $2 million went to relief in Nazi Germany. Congress appropriated $50 million for relief, which was administered by the Red Cross, and more than half went to Britain and none to occupied areas.

By 1945 organized labor emerged as a major donor and together with religious and ethnic groups, it raised the annual total of private giving for overseas assistance to $234 million. By this time, government coordination had coalesced voluntary agencies, and total contributions, between 1939 and 1945, included $54 million for Russia, $38 million for Great Britain, $36 million for Palestine, $35 million for China, and $30 million for Greece.

However impressive, this private assistance was not nearly enough. As increasing needs called for increased response, and as relief supplies followed the armies into liberated areas, stop-gap governmental efforts were succeeded first by interallied coordination and then by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), headed by Herbert H. Lehman. The work of UNRRA, on a wholly new scale, was of necessity largely American-supported: of almost $4 billion dispensed between 1943 and 1947, 70 percent was provided by the United States. Again with victory the demands increased. In the theaters of conflict the destruction vastly exceeded that of World War I, an enormous refugee problem existed, and dislocations between city and countryside threatened a dangerously deteriorating food situation.

Although some Americans, relieved of the strains of war, evinced a willingness to let the world be, most still saw a compelling need to help, both on ethical and humanitarian grounds and for reasons of policy, as they sought to further democracy, stability, peace, and prosperity, reminiscent of the period after World War I. Given the tensions that later developed, it is worth noting that the appeal of Russian relief, so strong during the fighting, survived the moment of victory: $32 million in cash and kind was provided in 1945 and assistance continued into 1946. But soon the Soviets declared their independence of outside aid, while the coming of the Cold War brought the containment of communism into the forefront of motives for reconstruction.

The response of the voluntary agencies in the immediate postwar period was impressive: expenditures between 1945 and 1948 totaled $1.1 billion. For the government, withdrawal from UNRRA on grounds of bad administration and ideological conflict was followed by support of the International Refugee Organization; by implementation of the Marshall Plan, a mixture of policy and humanitarian objectives between 1948 and 1952; contribution of some $13 billion to the rebuilding of postwar Europe; and by the Food for Peace program inaugurated in 1954 under the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act.

The postwar years were also marked by a "remarkable partnership" of public and private efforts founded on the extemporized successes of private agencies in postwar Germany and Japan; by the contributions of American Jews, who taxed themselves more heavily than any other sectarian group; and by the innovative Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE), which advanced from early shipment of surplus army rations to the large-scale movement of surplus agricultural products and whose deliveries grew in value from $500,000 in 1946 to $54 million in 1955. Whether all this generosity, if such it can be considered, was adequate to the need may be argued. Perhaps the best assessment comes through comparison of this treatment of liberated and conquered peoples with that provided by other nations in other campaigns.

In the 1950s, as European reconstruction progressed, the focus of overseas philanthropy shifted back to the less developed world: after 1958 more than half of disposable resources went to non-European areas. This shift also emphasized the surprising vigor of the missionary movement, now more than ever equated with social welfare, to which in 1956 American Protestants contributed some $130 million and American Catholics some $50 million. In the early 1950s, indeed, Protestant groups spent more for overseas technical assistance than the United States and the United Nations combined, and their accomplishments provided precedents for governmental action: the Point Four program, launched in 1950, early modeled itself on the Near East Foundation; a decade later the Peace Corps drew on the experience of the interdenominational International Voluntary Services (1953).

These private and public efforts were accompanied by expanded activity on the part of the larger foundations, which greatly increased their contributions to projects concerned with international affairs. Of these institutions, two were preeminent. Shifting its focus from its prewar concern with the eradication of disease, and following in the steps of such nineteenth-century pioneers as Horace Capron, Charles J. Murphy, and David Lubin, the Rockefeller Foundation took as its major goal the modernization of agriculture in the developing countries. Among the striking results were a doubling of Mexican food production between 1943 and 1963 and that of India between 1951 and 1971, and the establishment in 1960 of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Important assistance in establishing the Rice Institute came from the Ford Foundation, a new giant of philanthropy, whose resources of $3.6 billion (1968) enabled it to provide more than a quarter of all foundation grants devoted to international affairs. In pursuit of its ambitious aims, reminiscent of Andrew Carnegie, of the "establishment of peace," the Ford Foundation undertook extensive efforts to attack poverty, hunger, and disease, and to further social science and planning. And as birth rates steadily threatened to outstrip production, notwithstanding the successes of plant geneticists in producing high-yield varieties ("Green Revolution"), foundations and government agencies alike edged delicately into stabilizing population growth.

Except for Liberia, American philanthropy had stayed away from Africa, but neglect shifted somewhat in the 1970s, partly owing to the emergence of an African-American lobby. During the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans had protested against U.S. occupation of Haiti and Italian aggression in Ethiopia via traditional channels like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but it was in the 1970s that African Americans organized groups devoted solely to the purpose of influencing American foreign policy and leveraging private and government aid for Haiti and Africa. Following the congressional elections of 1970, African Americans in the House of Representatives organized the Black Caucus.

In March 1971 the Black Caucus urged President Richard Nixon to enact economic sanctions against minority white rule in South Africa. In Washington in May 1978, U.S. Congress Representatives Charles C. Diggs, Jr., and Andrew Young, among others, organized TransAfrica, Inc., a mass-based African-American foreign policy lobby. As leader of TransAfrica, Randall Robinson helped orchestrate an economic blockade against South African apartheid and TransAfrica established itself as the foremost voice for expressing African-American opinion on foreign policy issues. In 1986, when President Ronald Reagan vetoed a ban of loans and investments in South Africa, African Americans regarded it as hostile to their interests. In October, Congress overrode the presidential veto, as it responded to the lobbying of TransAfrica and white liberal opinion. South Africa is now free from apartheid partly because of the U.S. economic sanctions enacted following 1986. And once apartheid was eliminated, TransAfrica and other groups shifted their focus from imposing an embargo to leveraging increases in private and government grants to South Africans and to fighting the scourge of AIDS in Africa.

Meanwhile, as head of TransAfrica, Robinson's highly publicized twenty-seven-day hunger strike, which called upon President William Jefferson Clinton to restore democratic rule in Haiti, led the president to initiate new policies toward the repressive military dictatorship in Haiti. President Clinton intervened there with a force of 20,000 U.S. troops, which resulted in the restoration of the democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the presidency of the former French West Indian colony. Robinson has helped leverage private and government assistance for Haiti while the George Soros Foundations provided private assistance to island republics and southern Africa.


A leading global philanthropist, the Hungarianborn George Soros was attacked as a corporate raider, a speculator who achieved billionaire status via fluctuations in stocks, commodities, and currencies, but he has also been recognized as a billionaire who, like others before him, seemed determined to give away much of his money. He also received substantial attention because of the books he wrote that sought to explain his ambitious agenda for strengthening democracy and the rule of law on a global scale. Born in Budapest, he moved to England in 1947 and graduated from the London School of Economics; he moved to the United States in 1956 and founded the Open Society Fund (1979) and Soros FoundationSoviet Union (1987). Soros's goals were "to help open up closed societies, to help make open societies more viable, and to foster a critical mode of thinking." He established some thirty semiautonomous foundations, principally in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union but also in Guatemala, Haiti, and southern Africa. Established in 1993 in New York City, his Open Society Institute provided administrative, financial, and technical support, as well as establishing network programs to address certain issues on a regional or network-wide basis. In 1997, the various Soros foundations spent a total of $428.4 million on philanthropic activities. Along with the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper and others, Soros juxtaposed totalitarian ideologies with recognition that nobody has a monopoly on truth. Different people have different views and different interests, and he notes a need for institutions that encourage people to live together in peace and respect democracy and the rule of law. His goal was to protect individual rights and ensure freedom of choice and freedom of speech, and as an ardent supporter of toleration, he sees questions of choice and freedom as keys to the open society. By 2001, Soros had donated $1 billion: $350 million in 1997, including $50 million to a fund to help legal immigrants, and $100 million to set up Internet centers at universities in Russia. Soros's donations strengthened U.S. commitments in Eastern Europe and helped compel the realization that the region was vital to American foreign policy.


Robert Edward "Ted" Turner, CNN founder and Time Warner vice chairman, announced on 18 September 1997 that he would donate $1 billion ($100 million per year in Time Warner stock) over the next decade to United Nations programs. Speaking of his gift, Turner said, "This is only going to go for programs, programs like refugees, cleaning up land mines, peacekeeping, UNICEF for the children, for diseases, and we're going to have a committee that will work with a committee of the UN so that the money can only go to UN causes." He announced that his goal was to stimulate philanthropic competition, and his grant of $1 billion was intended to raise the bar to a new level.

Starting in 1970 with a single UHF television station in Atlanta, Turner's business grew into a global colossus that included cable channels, movie studios, and professional sports teams. He started his TBS satellite superstation in 1976 and CNN in 1980. In 1996, Turner gave away $28 million, mainly to environmental causes, so the donation of $1 billion to the UN was a departure for him. Because the UN could not legally accept money from individuals, Turner created a foundation to spend the money and administer the programs, which he expected to focus on job creation, eradication of land mines, expansion of education, and research on global warming. He also became a fundraiser for the United Nations and actively sought publicity both for himself and for a number of causes, such as the environmental movement and world peace. His gift of $1 billion to support the United Nations was considered at the time the largest single donation by a private individual. By comparison, all charitable giving by Americans in 1996 was approximately $120 billion. "Few Americans," noted Newsweek, "have cut such a swath through life." Turner's donations strengthened the United Nations as a platform for the resolution of world conflicts and a commitment to international peace.


Bill Gates, in 2001 the world's richest person, had a personal philosophy of philanthropy that seemed to reflect the views of Andrew Carnegie: "If they want to put in the consent decree that I'm going to give away 95 percent of my wealth, I'd be glad to sign that." A Harvard dropout, Gates had seemed an unlikely successor to his overachieving parents. His father was a prominent Seattle attorney, and his gregarious mother served on charitable boards and ran the United Way. At age thirteen Gates wrote his first computer program, at a time when computers were still room-sized machines run by scientists in white coats. In December 1974, his friend Paul Allen showed Gates a Popular Mechanics cover featuring the Altair 8800, a $397 computer that any hobbyist could build. The only thing the computer lacked, besides a keyboard and monitor, was software. Following complex developments, the company Gates and Allen formed, Microsoft, introduced the Windows operating system, and by 1993 Microsoft was selling a million copies of Windows a month. In 1986, when Microsoft went public, Gates became a paper billionaire at the age of thirty-one. Meanwhile, he increased his charitable giving: He earmarked $750 million over five years to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which involved an alliance with the World Health Organization, the Rockefeller Foundation, UNICEF, pharmaceutical companies, and the World Bank.

In 1999 the Gates Foundations awarded more than $2 billion in grants, including what is believed to be the largest single private grant in U.S. history$750 million to the global vaccine program over a five-year period. His vaccine project specifically targeted HIV and AIDS, which he identified in a speech in Redmond, Washington, on 18 October 2000 as having potentially dramatic consequences for the infrastructure of many countries, including Botswana. He also joined with Ted Turner on the vaccine program to give $78 million to eradicate polio from the world by the end of 2000. Gates's donations helped alert the world to the problems of disease as problems of international relations and of American foreign policy.


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, American philanthropists could point with pride to two centuries of giving and voluntary association for the good of humanity abroad. But as some critics have suggested, the American philanthropic tradition reached a crossroads arising from the broader context of American diplomacy and from unprecedented criticism from abroad and at home.

The advent of America's hyperpower status since the collapse of the Soviet Union led many to turn a critical eye toward the United States and its philanthropy. As the hegemonic power in the world, even American allies and friends sought to portray the United States as part of the problem, not the solution. American missionaries were criticized as self-righteous meddlers and cultural imperialists and U.S. foreign aid as philanthropic imperialism. Foundations came under attack, as when missionaries were criticized for accepting tainted Rockefeller oil money. Critics suggested that American philanthropy was corrupted by excessively close connections to U.S. foreign policy. Some foreign critics interpreted American philanthropy as the last refuge of Western colonialism.

Some accusations were true enough, but the goals of salvation, survival, or modernization, were always among American philanthropy's goals, and the foundations, like the missionaries, emphasized the unity of mankind and tried to downgrade the importance of nationalism, political frontiers, and political differences. Such attitudes were reflected in practice, for not all private charities cooperated with the U.S. government, and most had reservations. Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba in 1959 moved the Ford Foundation to direct a major effort toward Latin America. Still, the philanthropic ideal remained deeply rooted in the American people.

Far more significant than any politicizing of philanthropy has been the continued influence of the philanthropic ideal on the conduct of American foreign relations. Persistent hope for liberal causes were exemplified in the nineteenth century by James Monroe and Richard Rush during the French and Latin American revolutions, in the reception accorded the Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth in the United States in 1851, and in Daniel Webster's attacks upon the Habsburg Empire. Moreover, the U.S. view that expanding trade has advanced civilization informed early American commercial treaties with the Islamic world and the Far East and U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Although open to charges of racism, an important domestic philanthropic concern underlay the founding of Liberia in 1847, as did a genuine desire to enhance the welfare of African Americans. Persistent American belief in self-determination gave American policy an anticolonial bias and led to diplomatic support for weak regimes against their more powerful oppressors.

President Jimmy Carter's emphasis on human rights during the second half of the 1970s was well received around the world and seemed to be an extension or reflection of earlier pronouncements of his predecessors. Early in the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson had noted that it was "a very perilous thing to determine the foreign policy of a nation in terms of material interest"; as Wilson had led the American nation into World War I, he had defined American war aims as seeking "no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make." In later periods of crisis, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered the Four Freedoms to the world, and his successor, Harry S. Truman, noted that "it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation," while John F. Kennedy in the 1960s promised that America would "pay any price to assure the survival and the success of liberty." At times, however, philanthropy has been ill advised; at times change has proved destabilizing, as expectations rose faster than performance. Often results did not materialize, as custom proved resistant and ruling groups were averse to the American plan. Some recipients were resentful of gifts and donations, feeling that being unable to reciprocate to a gift from the United States has brought dishonor upon them. Indeed, it would be possible to write about U.S. philanthropy from the perspective of recipients rather than donors and arrive at much different conclusions.

As critics have noted, a danger of both foreign aid and philanthropy has been entanglement in the local politics and power struggles occasioned by wars, famines, and natural disasters. In Africa, CARE unwittingly assisted a Somali dictator in building a political and economic power base; and the United Nations, Save the Children, and many other groups provided raw materials for ethnic rivalries. A case of frustrated ambitions has been that of India, where an assistance program measured in billions of dollars turned out to be a holding operation, ending in mutual disillusionment, even before population explosion, limited resources, and an energy crisis suggested a very different future.

Some critics have rejected American foreign aid and private philanthropy abroad, but they have failed to acknowledge the good that has been achieved, as in education and health care. Faced by such critics, some have suggested that, if America perfected its own ideals at home, perhaps America's greatest gift to the twenty-first century would be its example rather than its philanthropic aid packages and coercive powers. So, perhaps it is now possible, given current skepticism, to achieve a new balance, one that recognizes the virtue of limiting American political intervention abroad and yet acknowledges the genuine achievements of America's philanthropic tradition. And while seeking a new balance, it may be useful to keep in mind Bill Gates's insight that it is at least as difficult to give money away as it is to make money.


Anheier, Helmut K., and Stefan Toepler, eds. Private Funds, Public Purpose: Philanthropic Foundations in International Perspective. New York, 1999.

Arnove, Robert F., ed. Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Bloomington, Ind., 1980.

Chambers, Clarke A., and Beverly Stadum. An Exploration of New Themes in the Study of American Philanthropy Arising from Archival Research. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.

Curti, Merle Eugene. American Philanthropy Abroad: A History. New Brunswick, N.J., 1963. Though dated regarding its context and inclusiveness, still the best survey.

Curti, Merle Eugene, and Kendall Birr. Prelude to Point Four: American Technical Missions Overseas, 18381938. Madison, Wis., 1954.

Daniel, Robert L. American Philanthropy in the Near East, 18201960. Athens, Ohio, 1970.

Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture. Ithaca, N.Y., 1966.

. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 17701823. New York, 1999. This work and the preceding book discuss the antislavery movement as a form of philanthropy.

DeConde, Alexander. Ethnicity, Race and American Foreign Policy: A History. Boston, 1992. Provides fresh insight on politics of foreign policy.

Dennis, James S. Christian Missions and Social Progress: A Sociological Study of Foreign Missions. 3 vols. New York, 18981906. Discusses nineteenth-century philanthropy.

Field, James A., Jr. America and the Mediterranean World, 17761882. Princeton, N.J., 1969. Information on early American philanthropy.

Ilchman, Warren F., Stanley N. Katz, and Edward L. Queen II, eds. Philanthropy in the World's Traditions. Philanthropic Studies Series. Bloomington, Ind., 1998. Information on philanthropy in Western and non-Western societies.

Jordan, Winthrop D. White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 15501812. New York, 1977.

King, Kenneth. Pan-Africanism and Education: A Study of Race Philanthropy and Education in the Southern States of America and East Africa. Oxford, 1971.

Lewis, Robert Ellsworth. The Educational Conquest of the Far East. New York, 1903.

Maren, Michael. The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. Glencoe, Ill., 1996. Twentieth-century philanthropy.

Miller, Christopher L. Prophetic Worlds: Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau. New Brunswick, N.J., 1985.

Morris, David. Gift from America: The First Fifty Years of CARE. Atlanta, 1996.

Nichols, Bruce, and Gil Loescher, eds. The Moral Nation: Humanitarianism and U.S. Foreign Policy Today. South Bend, Ind., 1989.

Osgood, Robert Endicott. Ideals and Self-Interest in America's Foreign Relations: The Great Transformation of the Twentieth Century. Chicago, 1953.

Saillant, John. Black, White and "The Charitable Blessed": Race and Philanthropy in the American Early Republic. Bloomington, Ind., 1998.

Schneewind, Jerome B., ed. Giving: Western Ideas of Philanthropy. Bloomington, Ind., 1996.

Schrift, Alan D., ed. The Logic of the Gift: Toward an Ethic of Generosity. New York, 1997. Provides anthropological perspectives on gift giving.

Schwantes, Robert S. Japanese and Americans: A Century of Cultural Relations. New York, 1955.

Wall, Joseph Frazier. Andrew Carnegie. 2d ed. Pittsburgh, 1989.

See also Cultural Relations and Policies; Foreign Aid; Humanitarian Intervention and Relief; Religion; Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy.

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Social legislation

North American philanthropy

Social functions of philanthropy

Modern trends


The terms “philanthropy” and “charity” have often been used interchangeably, but changes in attitude to the phenomenon of giving have meant that charity now has a somewhat derogatory connotation, and so it is gradually giving way to the more acceptable concept of philanthropy. The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of philanthropy as being “the disposition or active effort to promote the happiness and well-being of one’s fellow men” introduces the modern conception of charitable effort which stresses the total well-being of the individual rather than merely relieving distress. Philanthropy, too, seems a more appropriate term for the highly organized types of giving typical of modern industrialized societies.

Participation in philanthropic activity is now more characteristic of the individualistic laissezfaire societies in which the ideology of personal liberty and noninterference by the state is widely held than of those with communist political systems. In some of the individualistic societies it plays such an important role that its organized agencies have become closely integrated with the whole social structure. Every year vast sums of money are collected for an infinite number of philanthropic purposes, and an increasing number of people participate in the work of collecting money through highly organized fund-raising campaigns. So well has this form of activity come to serve certain needs that in many countries it has even been incorporated in government policy in the form of tax exemptions for contributions to charitable agencies. It has become such an accepted form of behavior that few now escape the demands of giving, and many important institutions are partly or wholly dependent on it.

On the other hand, in countries in which the rights of the community take precedence over the rights of the individual, there is less need for voluntary philanthropy because the state takes responsibility for most if not all of the needs of its people.

No adequate data have been gathered to tell the history of philanthropy all over the world. Anthropologists have shed light on the practice and attitudes to giving in a number of preliterate societies. Historians have given us accounts, often with much detail, of a few Eastern societies, ancient Greece and Rome, and some of the medieval European countries. These studies show that the scope of charity has undergone many changes with regard to beneficiaries, the type of benefits, and those held responsible and that these have reflected the changing social structures of the societies concerned. But there is very little accurate information on the philanthropic activity of many societies, even in modern times, and there are few scientific studies of the effect of philanthropic activity on the giver and on the recipient.


In early times, charity was usually motivated by religious faith, and so its history in different societies can, in part, be understood by studying their religious ideologies. However, religious zeal is largely the product of a complex of forces; thus, even though the ideal of philanthropy was articulated through the religious functionaries, there were always other underlying reasons that prompted philanthropic giving. It seldom, if ever, occurred either when the giver did not receive some practical or psychological reward, or when there was no punishment for not giving. Active participation in philanthropy has through the ages been much more characteristic of Christian, or Western, than of pagan, or Eastern, societies, and of those belonging to Protestant rather than to Roman Catholic or Orthodox religions (Grubb 1917, p. 837).

In preliterate societies, the family, kin, caste, tribe, or clan looked after its own people as a natural duty. The wealthier and those in high positions were expected to bear the larger share of looking after the destitute, and sometimes the village would look after all its members. But almsgiving, in the sense of the duty of everyone to give to those outside their own close circle, was not necessary. For to belong to a large family or clan was to be part of a system that supplied social and economic security. The continuing strength of the ties of family, kin, tribe, or caste in Africa and Asia is one of the main reasons for the difference in the organization of philanthropy in the East and the West. Another is the fact that almost all the new nations have begun their independence with a certain amount of guaranteed social security in their constitutions.

Certain current trends in philanthropic thinking and organization go back very far in history. The idea that giving would ensure a reward in heaven was found in Egypt many centuries before the Christian era, and giving was not limited to family or clan. In ancient Rome, the idea was first introduced that citizenship was the basis of the right of relief for every person, no matter whether he was destitute or not; this foreshadowed the principle of universality. Philanthropy in this sense had very little connection with poverty and was not necessarily motivated by pity, nor was it considered an important virtue. The state looked after its citizens, and the wealthy did not give large sums for charity but, rather, aided the state with such gifts as fitting out navies. Some organized charities did eventually develop around the first century a.d.

Another philanthropic ideal that is still held by some Christians is the belief that one-tenth of a person’s income should go to charity. This idea, called the tithe, goes far back in the history of Hebrew giving and was a religious duty. The system of tithing was fairly common among many ancient peoples and was often collected in the form of a general tax rather than as a gift to God or the poor. Thus our present acceptance of state taxation for charity could be said to be an idea that was also suitable for the charitable needs of earlier societies. The teachings of Jesus with regard to giving, which have had great influence in determining philanthropic attitudes down to the present day in the Western world, can also be traced to earlier religious attitudes toward charity. In particular, Jesus’ teaching that the spirit of the giver is more important than the size of the gift, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive, emphasized the virtues of unselfishness and giving as a personal sacrifice.

In the East, religion has also usually been the main force to motivate giving. Many verses in the Koran exhort the believer to give alms. This is considered a basic duty, and the destitute and poor can demand alms as a right. The Muslims thus look on almsgiving as a compulsory act, but one that enhances the prestige of the giver.

In China, the teachings of Confucius and Mencius were especially important in implanting the ideal of benevolence. The Chinese have always been generous givers, especially in the last two centuries. Up until the communist regime, large amounts of money were donated voluntarily, and many local charities were coordinated through organizations like the Hall of United Benevolence, which was established as early as 1805; this foreshadowed the modern trends toward the Community Chest. The idea of state philanthropy, however, did not exist before the communist regime.

The Hindu religion also stresses that there will be a reward for generosity, after death as well as in the present world. But in other respects, the concept of Hindu charity is different from that found in the West. Traditionally almsgiving was not looked on as a matter of bestowing gifts to the poor and needy because of compassion and sympathy, at the whim of the individual giver. Rather, sharing possessions and relieving the wants of others was a habitual activity. This attitude was implanted at such an early age, and was so deeply accepted at all levels of Hindu society, that it explains why ascetics have been able to wander far and wide in India, knowing that they would always be cared for. Manu’s teaching, however, did not include the conception of collective, disinterested responsibility, and so it was not until the nineteenth century that the idea of state responsibility and organized philanthropy developed in India.

The trends which foreshadowed modern philanthropy can be more easily traced in the Western Christian countries. For since they led the industrial revolution, they were forced to alter their patterns of giving sooner than the less developed countries of Africa and the East. In the early Christian era the religious institutions taught that giving alms was an intrinsic and essential part of a Christian’s duty. But there was no over-all control of giving in the sense that all the poor and destitute were equally served. Rather, a giver gave according to his conscience and the amount of social pressure to which he was exposed, directly to the recipient. This meant that the giver usually saw the problems of the recipient at first hand and thus made charity a personal affair.

The great changes that took place in the whole conception and organization of charity were due, first of all, to the decline of medieval society in Europe and to the ensuing disorganization which loosed forces that gradually undermined the former, tightly structured feudal way of life. The dissolution of the monasteries, the steady increase in population from 1400 on, the beginning of a serious rural-urban movement, plagues, and wars all aggravated the problem of poverty and destitution. The growing towns, too, gradually provided the possibility of group concern over poverty, for destitution had grown so extensive and evident that it could no longer be ignored. It was soon seen as a serious, continuing social problem, and this made its relief a social as well as a religious duty. It was soon evident, too, that the church, which had formerly had a near monopoly over charity, could no longer cope with the situation; thus, private and secular charitable institutions began to arise to fill the gap. This movement to secular organizations was nourished by the mounting wealth of the industrial middle classes.

Thus historical circumstances, which shifted the power of the former feudal lords and the medieval church, redistributed wealth and power, and brought about the beginning of a new industrial society, also caused a redistribution of responsibility for charity. For the dislocations and maladjustments caused by these momentous changes produced a situation which was too heavy for the church and local piety to handle (Jordan 1959, pp. 55–63).

This new approach to philanthropy gradually became defined and supported by law. The earliest and most famous law was that passed by Queen Elizabeth i in 1601 to “create, control and protect the funds that had been allotted or donated to charity.” It made the local community responsible for providing for the destitute whose families were unable to look after them. But it went no further than to mark out those responsible for the needy. Laws created to deal with this new social phenomenon, however, necessarily lagged behind the rapidly growing needs. For no one could foresee the extent of the fundamental changes that were taking place or envisage the coming industrial revolution, which would produce new types of destitution and poverty far beyond the capacity of the individual family or voluntary agencies to look after. Part of the gap was filled in by wealthy individuals who gave large gifts of money to relieve the misery of those caught in the new social and economic dislocations. These gifts resembled the grants awarded by the numerous modern American foundations, but differed from them in that they were solely for relief, for in that era prevention was not recognized, nor was the future state of the destitute of much interest (Andrews 1956, p. 38). They did, however, serve the function of enabling people to test out new ways of coping with the situation. In this sense the givers could be looked on as initiators of social change.

Social legislation

As time went on, the agrarian and industrial revolutions gained momentum, until in the twentieth century the industrialized countries faced a completely new way of life which had brought about so much economic and social uncertainty that citizens could no longer be protected from the misery of destitution by haphazard relief. Moreover, by that time it was recognized that there were problems to be alleviated in other areas of life. Thinkers, writers, statesmen, and politicians gradually began to accept and then to define a new conception of social welfare. And the public slowly and grudgingly accepted the fact that the state must bear the major share of public relief. This new attitude was gradually incorporated into the state legislation of a number of Western nations.

Western countries

The Scandinavian countries, some of the Commonwealth countries, and England, with their relatively stable political systems, were among the first countries to lead the way to the welfare or “social service” state, although part of the Scandinavian experiment was influenced by the first embracing movement to ameliorate the conditions of the workers, which had been introduced in Germany by Bismarck in the 1870s. This statesman had persuaded his government to adopt the most extensive program of social legislation that the world had ever seen, in order to cut the ground from under the feet of his socialistic opponents. The northern European countries and Australia served as the first social laboratories whose experiments could be watched and appraised by the rest of the world.

In addition to voluntary or compulsory insurance, introduced in many of the western European countries in the nineteenth century, other social legislation was enacted after World War i and the 1930 depression. Countries such as France and England led the way to further legislation after World War ii, inspired in part by the Beveridge Report (Great Britain … 1942). This report greatly influenced both public opinion and social legislation, for it was introduced at a time when the destruction and privations of the war had so stirred people that they were ready for a constructive approach to social problems.

In England the real change in attitude and practice came about during and after World War n. Rising costs and the heavy taxation of the postwar years caused donations to private charities to decline sharply. This forced many of the former voluntary agencies to depend on the government for at least part of their income in such forms as grants in aid. By the 1960s the social services provided by the welfare state, either directly or through local authorities, impinged on the life of each citizen from birth to death. These services are now regarded as one of the basic rights of all citizens. Thus the principle of universality, the conception of the desirability of universal coverage for all persons and all needs, gradually emerged.

Some of the countries in central Europe, Czechoslovakia in particular, were also early in establishing some governmental measures of social security. The countries of eastern Europe were a little later, and those of Latin America, on the whole, did not bring in state legislation until the 1920s. After that there was a rapid movement toward social assistance in many of these countries, although they were greatly hampered by distances, difficulties of communication, the slow rate of industrial development, and the great number of people living in primitive conditions. Chile, however, has had very advanced social legislation since 1924.

In no country did the transition from private giving to state control go through without a struggle, and all countries enacted their social legislation in a piecemeal way and in different sequences of coverages, with no coordinated effort for overall security, until the communists came to power.

The advance toward the universal provision of basic support has cut heavily into the former activity of voluntary organizations and private philanthropy, although even in the United Kingdom, with its well-established welfare state, so many voluntary agencies raise money for charitable purposes that it is impossible to estimate their number or the amount of money they raise or spend.

Developing countries

As the less advanced countries of Asia and Africa became politically independent in the 1950s and 1960s, they attempted to establish a sound basis of social security for their people. Such attempts were hampered by the conditions of their economies, low standards of living, and overpopulation. Many of them still have to depend on voluntary effort and money to cover all their needs. The history of the extension of philanthropy in India is much like that of the Western countries. In the nineteenth century, changing conditions gradually made it apparent that individual effort alone could not provide for all the contingencies of Hindu life, so voluntary social agencies began to take over some of the burden. In the nineteenth century the Christian missionaries in particular led in setting up social services, and many Hindu reformers, such as Ghandi, were instrumental in furthering this voluntary work. After India had gained its independence in 1947, the government embodied state responsibility for many measures of social security in the constitution of 1950.

However, the immensity of the problems faced by the new government, the lack of finances to train personnel to carry out the proposed reforms, and the belief that only private volunteers could provide the “human touch” essential to counterbalance the impersonal administrative machinery of a welfare state made the planning commission of the first five-year plan determined to set up the principle that the major responsibility for organizing activities in such schemes as the welfare of women and children, education, and community development should fall to private voluntary agencies. The central Social Welfare Board was established in 1950 to coordinate and administer these agencies. It functions as an autonomous body and enables members to move more rapidly as new problems or social crises arise. A number of foundations have also arisen, and money-raising campaigns on the North American pattern are held in crises such as floods (Kulkarni 1961, p. 68).

Most of the less advanced countries are still at the stage when their people are looked after to a large extent by the extended family system of tribal groups. One of their main problems is that sudden and rapid industrialization is making them alter their traditional patterns of duty and responsibility almost overnight.

Japan, however, has been an exception. It had a modified pension scheme as early as the 1870s and was the first Far Eastern country to establish a modern social security system (Durand 1953, pp. 85–157). Japan’s first Community Chest drive in 1947 showed that the Japanese had accepted the conception of the responsibility of citizenship, which entails impersonal and regular giving.

Communist countries

The social legislation and philanthropic outlook of communist countries are difficult to compare with those of capitalist countries, where private initiative and individual ownership of the means of production are dominant. The communist countries have gone further in legislating for the needs of their peoples than have other countries. From the time of the 1917 Revolution in Russia the government has been determined to institute a complete system of social assistance. This ideal was embodied in the first constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which claimed that every citizen had the right to education and to many types of social assistance. Soviet citizens have been trained in this ideology for so long that they now take it for granted that the government will provide them with extensive social welfare benefits and universal education, as well as supply a society in which they will have cultural and even spiritual well-being. In the Soviet Union only religion is not covered by state protection, and must be supported by voluntary effort. Any congregation that is willing to pay the salary of its clerics and the costs of maintaining the buildings may hold services in a church, mosque, or synagogue. The Soviet citizen is also able to contribute his time to different voluntary agencies, for the constitution permits Russians to form voluntary organizations to pursue scientific research, experiment in education, encourage sports, etc. There are also occasions when some disaster brings about the need for immediate action. In such cases voluntary contributions are solicited. But there is no formal philanthropic structure for the continued solicitation of funds for long-term projects (Maxwell 1962, pp. 652–655).

In the countries with more laissez-faire philosophies and democratic governments the struggle to define the public and private areas of responsibility still continues. In its essence it is an underlying struggle between individualism and collectivism. The individualistic view holds that voluntary charitable agencies must be administered and financed by volunteers because they are one of the important bulwarks against complete state control. Moreover, it is felt that in a period of rapid social change, governments cannot act rapidly enough when new problems arise. So there is still the need for voluntary philanthropists who can experiment on a small scale even in controversial fields, without causing too much general disruption. Many voluntary agencies have gradually been forced to relinquish their control to the state when the financial burden has become too much for them to bear, or when a problem has become so widespread that it cannot be handled by private donations of time or money.

North American philanthropy

The expansion of philanthropy and its new forms of organization have gone further on the North American continent, particularly in the United States, than in any other part of the world. Indeed, voluntary giving has grown to such an extent in the past seventy years that some people speak of a “philanthropic revolution.”

North American attitudes to private philanthropy have been very deeply influenced by the tradition of the frontier, with its individualistic philosophy and suspicion of government control. Private initiative is still thought of as the key to American progress and success, for it has led to most of the inventions, medical discoveries, educational experiments, and basic research which have enabled the United States to become the leading industrialized nation. It has also led to the patterns of organization necessary to run a very complex society. This attitude, as well as the businessman’s desire to retain control over philanthropic activity, has deeply influenced American business and philanthropic efforts. Indeed, many businessmen feel that corporations should give freely to philanthropy, for in this way they will retain control over areas of life which are still free of government control.

This philosophy, combined with the rich resources of the American continent, produced accompanying attitudes that poverty and destitution are mainly the result of a lack of initiative and apathy and that therefore receiving public relief is a shameful thing. As in other countries, however, the twentieth century showed that the social dislocations of rapid industrialization and urbanization were too vast and complex to be relieved by private contributions, even in a rich country. Up to the 1930s, health, welfare, research, and, to some extent, higher education were believed to be mainly the responsibility of private philanthropy. But the great depression of the 1930s forced Americans to accept an enlargement of governmental functions. And so the state began to take over the financing and direction of one voluntary agency after another, assisted by such movements as the New Deal. This movement, however, did not diminish the actual donations to private philanthropy. For they have continued to increase in size, largely because of the affluence of the postwar era and the opening up of new fields for experimentation engendered by the rapidly changing social and economic conditions.

Corporate donation

Part of the growth of donations in America is due to the increase in number and size of business enterprises. For as corporations have grown in size, there has been an increasing demand on the part of the public that they take a leading role in financing the social services of the community. Corporations soon recognized that philanthropic activity could become a very important part of their public relations, for it is an excellent medium through which they can demonstrate their interest and participation in community welfare. Today it is one of the most fruitful advertising media for all corporations, big and small. The recognition of the part corporations could play in financing voluntary agencies was first introduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the Y.M.C.A., an organization that had been imported into America in 1851 from England. The Y.M.C.A. had set a new pattern for raising money: intensive drives for money over a short period of time, the use of sophisticated techniques to raise money, and an emphasis on corporation donations. Other voluntary agencies soon copied this pattern, and it is still the typical large North American fund-raising practice. Soon definite quotas were set for the contributions of most large corporations. World War i was instrumental in spreading this new philanthropic pattern because it multiplied local problems and brought about many appeals for the relief of sufferers in Europe. At the same time, the patriotic wartime spirit, the large wartime earnings, and the legal right to deduct charitable contributions from the taxable income of individuals and corporations all combined to establish habits of giving on the part of citizens from all income groups.

Another trend in philanthropic activity that was established during the war was that of coordination of effort. There was a growing realization that while much of the voluntary work was overlapping, many of the needs were being overlooked. This coordination took the form of Community Chests, which combined a number of charities under one appeal, and United Appeals. By 1929 it was estimated that there were 331 Community Chests in America. These chests had raised $73 million in that one year alone. Again, corporations played a large part in financing this expansion.

In 1936 a revenue act was passed which allowed corporations an exemption of up to 5 per cent of their net income for charitable contributions. As the result of this tax and the unprecedented prosperity of the postwar years, corporation giving rose sharply after World War ii. This is seen in figures which show that whereas corporation support for 13 Community Chests (for which figures are available) in 1920 was 23.8 per cent of the total amount collected, in 1950 it was 39.5 per cent for 69 Community Chests reporting returns (Andrews 1952, p. 158). The total philanthropic donations of corporations has also risen steeply. The Bureau of Internal Revenue estimates that whereas in 1936 corporations donated $30 million to charitable purposes, in 1951 the figure was over $300 million. Although this figure is large, a breakdown in terms of total giving to philanthropy and type of giver shows that corporation contributions are only 5 per cent of the total annual receipts. The rest is made up of donations from foundations (3 per cent), individual gifts (74 per cent), and other sources (18 per cent) (Andrews 1952, p. 19).

The donations do not come only from the corporation budget but also directly from employees. This source was tapped when the growing number of campaigns caused strong competition between fund raisers during World War i and forced them to move further down the economic ladder to achieve their objectives. Employees were a well-organized group from which to solicit. This movement was encouraged in so many corporations that by 1950 a large number permitted payroll deductions for the major national and city-wide campaigns in North America (Committee … 1953, p. 19).

The rise in the contributions of corporations has enabled them to take over the control of raising and allotting money to many philanthropic agencies. Management can determine the amount that will be given, and since the same men are often found on the boards of a number of the larger corporations, they have come to form an “inner circle” which can control both the gifts that are given and the selection of the top executives in the philanthropic agencies and in the more important and prestigious fund-raising campaigns, such as those for hospitals and universities. Once the modern fund-raising pattern had been established, it did not take the business world long to realize that donating manpower to campaign activity would be as good an advertising device as donating money. Moreover, this was a means by which the organizing and executive ability of promising young men could be tested. In fact, taking part in philanthropic activity, and particularly fund-raising campaigns, has become an essential part of the successful businessman’s career. His participation brings him into contact with men who are influential in business, gives him training, and enables him to demonstrate his ability publicly in the highly competitive field of raising money (Ross 1954).

Social functions of philanthropy

The type of charity has varied from country to country and from one historical period to another, but philanthropy has always been the reflection of a class society because it has depended on a division between rich givers and poor recipients. Even when the poor have themselves been the givers, they have always made up the largest proportion of recipients. The wealthy have not only given because they have more but because, by alleviating distress, they have secured their own positions against those who might displace them and thus have avoided revolt. At the same time, giving has been a means of enhancing their status in the eyes of their fellow men. W. K. Jordan believes that many of our present attitudes toward philanthropy have come down from the early Elizabethan days, in which the maladjustments were so intense that they simply could not be ignored by anyone who was in any way sensitive to suffering (Jordan 1959, p. 146). The Protestant Reformation in England was partly a product of these conditions and partly in its turn the means of reinforcing the conception of the responsibility of the top classes for the “havenots,” even when the structure of the classes changed and the industrialists began to replace the aristocrats.

The association of financial responsibility with upper-class position continued to be as strong in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it had been in the seventeenth. The chief charitable offices in Western Protestant countries have traditionally been the prerogative of the top social classes. The well-known term “Lady Bountiful” suggests the part that upper-class women played in philanthropic activity in the nineteenth century. At that time the aristocratic classes in England had leisure and were just becoming conscious of the necessity of justifying their position because of the growing political strength of the lower classes. They also retained from the past the sense of noblesse oblige, a feeling of responsibility for persons of inferior economic and social status. These factors led them to this voluntary work, although the agencies they established were at first so scattered that they either did not cover all needs or else suffered from overlapping.

The idea that the top social classes should bear responsibility for the lower continued in the twentieth century, which ushered in new types of problems and necessitated an expansion of philanthropic activity. Today upper- and middle-class men and women hold many executive positions on boards of charitable agencies and fund-raising campaigns in all countries that engage in private philanthropy. In fact, philanthropy is now such an important part of the expected activity of women as well as men that it is very difficult for them to escape working in at least some of the important fund-raising campaigns.

For some women fund raising has become such a time-consuming activity that they often regard it as a career. Training for it begins at home, where children are subtly initiated into their future philanthropic roles. This training may be reinforced in such associations as the Junior League, the top social club for young North American women, where actual practical training is given for leading roles in voluntary agencies.

One activity that supports the relationship between philanthropy and the upper classes is that of the charity ball, which has become an important adjunct to the life of the social elite in most large North American cities. These balls are organized by committees of society women and are often spectacular affairs. They combine the display of wealth and position with the worthy purpose of helping a good cause.

Many studies have shown this dual relationship between philanthropic activity and social position. Warner’s study of Yankee City (Warner & Lunt 1941) was perhaps the first comprehensive study to demonstrate in detail the relationship between social position, wealth, and philanthropy. Although the philanthropic pattern has moved further down the social scale with the tremendous increase in formal organizations, upper-class men and women still hold far more of the most prestigious community positions in the important voluntary agencies than do those of the lower classes.

Modern trends


Modern philanthropy serves many and varied functions for the givers, the collectors, and the business world, as well as for the recipients. The more obvious functions that philanthropy has played through the centuries, such as relieving the lot of the poor and needy, is easy to see, but the more subtle aspects of its effects have seldom been analyzed. Nor has the way in which it has become integrated into many aspects of the social structure been fully realized.

During this process a core of professionally trained administrators and fund raisers has arisen to handle the complex problems that the extension of philanthropy has brought about. And a number of professional organizations have grown up with the specific purpose of directing the larger fundraising campaigns and training volunteer canvassers. These people were at first looked on as “professional beggars,” but by now the importance of their role is recognized and they have an accepted professional status.

The organization and coordination of philanthropy have eliminated much of the early spontaneity of giving. They have also brought about a more rational assessment of people’s ability to give and the introduction of scientific methods of surveying community and national needs and of raising money. Thus philanthropy has entered the field of planning. This trend has meant that the sense of personal involvement with a problem which in the past led to many worthwhile reforms has given way to impersonal donating to a charitable budget. However, emotional appeals are still effective, and certain charities like the Salvation Army and the March of Dimes draw money easily.

The ideology of philanthropy

Parallel to the centralization of many former charities under the jurisdiction of the state there has arisen the centralization of private giving under the control of businessmen. Business institutions have thus succeeded the religious institutions on which early charity depended for inspiration and control. This change has brought about a change in the ideology of philanthropy. Implicit in the religious ideology of giving was the idea that the giver, as well as the recipient, would receive some benefit from the gift, either in this world or the next. This is illustrated by such well-accepted quotations from the Bible as “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” This implication of future reward is still present in the modern ideology of giving, but the individual reward is no longer thought of as coming in the next world. Rather, it is expected in this one, either in the emotional form of personal satisfaction received from sacrifice and doing one’s duty or as a more tangible reward in the form of direct or indirect benefit from better medical services, better homes, playgrounds, and the like.

Attitudes of donors

The attitude of the donors, too, has tended to change. Much of the spontaneity and emotional satisfaction that were derived from personal giving to a need that the donor could observe at first hand has disappeared, and people tend to give more from a rational appraisal of the situation or from strong, inescapable pressures exerted by friends and community leaders. These pressures, combined with the multiplicity of demands that most citizens face each year, have made many people apathetic to even the most distressing situations, resentful of canvassers, and resistant to their appeals. Collectors thus face more and more problems in raising money each year.

Up to the middle of the nineteenth century there was an almost complete disregard on the part of the public of the donation’s effect on the recipient. The recognition that one of the most important rights of the citizen is that of public assistance has changed this attitude and has helped to eliminate much of the humiliation and shame that taking charity had engendered in earlier times. Furthermore, state control has meant a broadening of the base of givers. Not only does a larger proportion of the population give regularly and continuously through taxation but also few people, even in the lowest income brackets, escape the pressures that come through the payroll deductions for charitable gifts that are incorporated in the rules of many large corporations, or the systematic canvassing of people of moderate and low incomes. Even children do not escape, for they can be induced as captive audiences in schools to give to as many charitable agencies as the school permits. This is rationalized in terms of training future adult subscribers.

The basic problem of philanthropy has changed from that of caring for the physical needs of a relatively few destitute people living in simple societies to attempting to meet the physical, social, and psychological needs of total populations living in highly complex societies. The emphasis is now being placed on securing a “better,” “happier,” or “healthier” world for all; and the focus has shifted from the relief of immediate want to long-term planning that will prevent future want. This trend toward prevention, whose development has been due to the growth of scientific knowledge, has eliminated the need for charity in some areas. It has also led to a change in the motivation to give; the emotional identification with someone else’s problems has been largely replaced by a rational appraisal of present and future needs.

Aileen D. Ross

[See alsoCooperation; Foundations; Poverty; Technical assistance; Voluntary associations, article onsociological aspects; Welfare state; Other relevant material may be found underPlanning, social.]


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Andrews, F. Emerson 1956 Philanthropic Foundations. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Anger, Charles A. 1963 Donations, Bequests and Grants Pages 327–328 in Britannica Book of the Year: 1963. Chicago: Benton.

Bruce, Maurice 1961 The Coming of the Welfare State. London: Batsford.

Committee on Corporate Giving In Canada 1953 Corporate Giving in Canada. Edited by Albert A. Shea. Toronto: Clarke.

Durand, Paul 1953 La politique contemporaine de sécurite sociale. Paris: Dalloz. → See especially pages 85–157.

Farnham, Carl H. 1957 World Trends in Social Security Benefits: 1955–1957. International Social Security Association, Bulletin 10:407–434.

Great Britain, Inter-Departmental Committee On So- Cial Insurance and Allied Services 1942 Social Insurance and Allied Services. Papers by Command, Cmd. 6404. London: H.M. Stationery Office; New York: Macmillan. → Known as the Beveridge Report.

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PHILANTHROPY. Philanthropy is private action for the public good. Americans like to think of themselves as a generous people, although much of their generosity stems from their distinctive political culture, which encourages and even requires public-private partnerships. The development of a "third sector" of private, nonprofit organizations results primarily from the separation of church and state, a political arrangement that has given rise to hundreds of thousands of voluntary organizations, all seeking their own vision of the public good.

A distinction can be made between philanthropy and charity. The word "charity" derives from the Latin "caritas, " meaning unconditional love. Charity often refers to short-term relief, while philanthropy is normally applied to attempts at investigating and reforming underlying causes. While most giving in America is in the form of small contributions, much of it for religious purposes, a significant development has been the creation of large philanthropic foundations, which contributed over $27 billion in 2000. While this constitutes less than 10 percent of total voluntary contributions, it is heavily concentrated, and thus has great impact. There are around fifty thousand foundations in the United States, with assets of around $450 billion, although one-third of this sum is held by the top twenty-five foundations.

Philanthopy in the Colonial Period

Philanthropy, wrote Rockefeller Foundation director Warren Weaver, "is not a modern invention, " for "concern for one's fellow men extends back to ancient times." Private gifts for community purposes were not uncommon in the classical period, the most famous being Plato's gift of productive land as an endowment for his academy. Early Christians were commanded to give to the poor beyond their ability. Gifts of property were common in the Christian era, and were used to establish monasteries, hospitals, colleges, and other semi-public institutions. In the Middle Ages the church had primary responsibility for religious, cultural, service, and educational activities; thus, the seizure of the monasteries during the early phase of the English Reformation created practical problems. Queen Elizabeth sought a middle way between Catholic and Puritan purposes. Toward the end of her reign Parliament passed two major laws that shaped colonial philanthropic efforts.

The most famous was the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, which made church parishes "overseers of the poor" and established the principle of local responsibility for indigent populations. The Statute of Charitable Uses, passed the same year, provided for church supervision of charitable bequests, such as "lands, tenements, rents, annuities, profits, inheritances, " and listed legitimate objects of charity, including poor relief, education in "free schools" and universities, medical treatment, and care of widows and orphans.

The Puritans who came to New England in 1630 had a different theoretical basis for philanthropic activity. The first governor of Massachusetts Bay, John Winthrop, imagined in his lay sermon, "A Model of Christian Charity, " a "city upon a hill, " a divinely ordered society of rich and poor with reciprocal duties. "We must be knit together in this work as one man, " Winthrop urged, so that "every man afford his help to another in every want or distress." The "care of the public" must supersede any private gain. Political enforcement through taxation, however, did not limit private gifts. Thus, John Harvard donated his personal library to the new colony's college.

The revocation of the Massachusetts charter after England's revolution of 1688 meant that government policy was no longer under the complete control of Puritan social theory. In this new context, cleric Cotton Mather, in his Bonifacius: Essays to Do Good (1710), urged congregations to develop voluntary organizations for social reform. Doing good was not a means of salvation, but rather an obligation to God and sound social policy, although Mather was careful to point out that giving wisely was better than giving generously.

Philanthropy in the middle colonies originated from a dissenting religious tradition and developed in the context of religious diversity. In 1681 Quaker William Penn established his colony as a "holy experiment" for religious refugees. Heavily influenced by Mather's Bonifacius, Benjamin Franklin introduced a secular spirit and self-help tradition into American philanthropy. His Junto, established in 1727, was a group of middling artisans who organized themselves for social purposes, and helped establish a free library, town watch, and fire company in Philadelphia. Franklin was instrumental in forming a voluntary militia to help defend the officially pacifist Quaker colony during the French and Indian War, and he established numerous other Philadelphia institutions, such as the American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and the University of Pennsylvania. These efforts were later jointly funded by taxation and private contributions. Many Philadelphians continued this tradition of civic philanthropy, including Benjamin Rush, who founded the Philadelphia Dispensary in the 1780s, the first free medical clinic in America.

The Great Awakening of the 1740s provided a major impetus to making philanthropy more a mass movement rather than a strictly upper-class phenomenon. New revivalist congregations needed voluntary support from their members, which not only required individual giving but also weakened support for established churches. Itinerant English evangelist George Whitefield preached throughout the colonies and encouraged giving for an orphanage in Georgia; one of the first colonywide fund-raising drives, it moved beyond the localism of the poor laws.

A New Order for the Ages: Revolutionary Disestablishment While important, colonial philanthropy was not significantly different from its historical antecedents. Far more profound were the fundamental changes that occurred between the Revolution and the passage of the Bill of Rights in 1791. The idea of limited government, combined with the separation of church and state, created a distinctive political tradition that not only allowed for voluntary activity, but in fact required it. Revolutionary ideology, which considered strong governments as destructive of liberty, opposed centralized power along with government support for charitable and cultural activities. Beyond a vague provision for "the general welfare, " the Constitution severely restricted federal authority, leaving whole areas of the common good, such as education, health, and poor relief, to either the states or private effort. Constitutional theory encouraged this devolution of power, not only through federalism and representation, but also by acknowledging freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. In his Federalist essays, James Madison argued that numerous competing factions and interests were the best means of preserving liberty and of providing for various definitions of the public good. Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom(1786), the precedent for the First Amendment, withdrew all governmental funding for religious activities, mandating a voluntary system of religious and charitable giving.

The status of nonreligious institutions, however, was at this point unclear. Jeffersonian democrats insisted that institutions that claimed to serve the public interest should be under state legislative control. This argument was rejected in the Dartmouth College Case (1819), in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the independence and autonomy of "eleemosynary, " or nonprofit, corporations. Relying upon the right of contract, Chief Justice John Marshall established the legal rights of all corporations by protecting their trustees from legislative interference.

This case opened the way for numerous private charitable organizations to pursue benevolent and philanthropic goals. Visiting in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed in Democracy in America,"an immense assemblage of associations" for countless political, civic, and charitable causes:

Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; … Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

These voluntary organizations competed against each other for contributions and acceptance. Occasionally they worked together in a so-called "benevolent empire" for moral improvement and social reform. Many had explicitly political aims, such as the abolition of slavery, while others concerned themselves with charitable activities.

Education and research relied heavily upon philanthropy. Before the Civil War hundreds of colleges were founded, mostly by religious denominations through private contributions, since Congress refused to establish any national university. One of the most famous philanthropic gifts was that of James Smithson, a British chemist who gave around $500,000 for "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." After a decade of debate, Congress finally created the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. Smithson's gift encouraged others in support of scientific research and public education, such as that of Abbot Lawrence for naturalist Louis Agassiz's laboratory at Harvard, Peter Cooper for the establishment of Cooper Union, and the founding of public libraries in Boston and New York.

During the Civil War both sides supported their respective war efforts through voluntarism. In the North the Christian Commission donated food, clothing, religious literature, and other supplies to troops, while the rival U.S. Sanitary Commission concentrated on coordinating local relief agencies, improving their administration, and reducing disease in military camps and hospitals. Funds were raised through "sanitary fairs" throughout the country that spread the voluntary spirit. Without compensation or accreditation, Clara Barton organized nursing care for wounded soldiers. She formed the American Red Cross in 1881 and served as its first president until 1904. Abolition societies pressured President Abraham Lincoln for emancipation and after the war, worked to establish the Freedmen's Bureau with federal funding. Other organizations flooded the postwar South with teachers and schools. Gen. Samuel Armstrong founded the Hampton Institute in Virginia and George Peabody established a fund for the "strickened South."

The Rise of Scientific Philanthropy

The rapid industrialization of American society in the late nineteenth century, combined with increased immigration, led to a series of social problems on a scale hitherto unimagined. Local-and religious-based philanthropy continued, of course, but urban conditions frequently over-whelmed traditional voluntarism. The social settlement house movement, exemplified by the founding of Hull House by Jane Addams in Chicago during 1889, sought to alleviate some of the worst conditions and encouraged the development of social science–based investigation of urban poverty.

That same year, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie published his essay "Wealth, " in which he urged its "proper administration … so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship." Carnegie chastised "indiscriminate charity" as morally destructive, instead calling for support for institutions of self-help, such as universities, libraries, and museums. The man of wealth was to be "the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren … doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves." Carnegie implemented his "gospel of wealth" at first through gifts of libraries to communities that promised to support them. After selling his steel interests, however, he concentrated on establishing permanent institutions and foundations.

Carnegie's businesslike approach fit well with a progressive belief in scientific investigation. After experimenting with various institutional forms, three major philanthropists—Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Margaret Olivia Sage—created a new type of institution between 1907 and 1913, the general purpose foundation. Differing from the British model of a charitable trust, which restricted trustees to the specific wishes of donors, the American foundation often was established with broad purposes, much like a business corporation, thus giving enormous discretion to trustees and staff. Eschewing charity, these institutions followed Rockefeller's advice to focus upon attacking underlying conditions. "Money, " he said, "is a feeble offering without the study behind it which will make its expenditure effective."

While founding private organizations, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Sage each assumed that their creations would work closely with government, providing research and a sort of venture capital for public programs. Often philanthropy filled gaps in government policy, as when southern states refused to fund the construction of black schools. Rockefeller's General Education Board and the Julius Rosenwald Fund assisted in the construction of thousands of schools in the South. Another model was provided by the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, which concentrated on a public health campaign to eradicate hookworm, work later taken over by state and local governments.

In their early decades, foundations concentrated on the advancement of formal knowledge. Much of this effort focused on the basic medical sciences and the strengthening of university departments and medical schools. For example, the Carnegie-funded Report on Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910), by Abraham Flexner, profoundly transformed medical training, especially after the General Education Board began heavily supporting medical schools on the Flexner model. As one Rockefeller Foundation staff member described it, the goal was to "make the peaks higher" and to develop research infrastructures in basic academic disciplines.

The business-corporate model also rationalized charities, especially after the formation of the Cleveland Foundation in 1914. Initially consisting of local charities, such community foundations coordinated the distribution of funds in a given locality, as through Community Chests, and also offered modest donors the professional administration of funds.

Philanthropy and the Voluntary State

In the 1920s Carnegie and Rockefeller philanthropies, along with the Russell Sage Foundation, began emphasizing the importance of the social sciences, especially in their relation to government policy formation. Foundation money helped create a number of institutions, such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Social Science Research Council, and the Brookings Institution, and also strengthened university departments of sociology, economics, and public administration.

The emergence of Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce and later as president increased the reliance of government upon private foundations in policy development. A network of university social scientists, supported by foundations, provided the expertise necessary for government programs, resulting in what might be called a voluntary state. Even before the Depression, Hoover sought expert advice on business cycles, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and health care, which led to the publication of the monumental report, Recent Social Trends (1933). Many New Deal programs, such as Social Security, relied upon this type of research. One controversial program was the Carnegie Corporation support for studies on race relations, especially Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma (1944), which was significant in shaping the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision that barred segregation.

This public-private partnership existed also in international matters. The Senate's refusal to approve American membership in the League of Nations led to an increased involvement of philanthropy overseas. Rockefeller philanthropy had supported basic medical research in China, and after World War I that backing was expanded to research programs in Europe and Asia. Also created were various International Houses on major university campuses, along with scholarly exchange programs to encourage greater understanding.

The economic upheavals of the 1930s depressed foundation endowments and also forced a change in federal tax policy, as inheritance taxes became permanent in 1935. Henry Ford, Eli Lilly, and Robert Wood Johnson each created new foundations to shelter their wealth. The new tax laws also allowed for profit companies to give to charity, and later to form their own foundations, which they did increasingly after the 1950s.

Philanthropy during the American Century

As World War II approached, foundations helped in establishing preparedness, which included encouraging many refugee scholars, including Albert Einstein, to flee Europe. Foundations funded special programs, as in science and language training, that were critical to the war effort. After World War II, philanthropy became increasingly tied to American foreign policy, especially in the Cold War. The Ford Foundation, joined by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie philanthropies, became increasingly involved in international affairs, developing university-based area studies programs and various cultural activities that were indirectly anti-communist.

Foundations came under attack in the early 1950s, most significantly by two congressional committees. In 1952 the Cox Committee examined whether foundations were undermining the exiting capitalistic structure. Two years later the more McCarthyite-like Reece Committee investigated whether they were subversive. Foundations responded by increasing their public visibility and accountability and by moving closer to the political mainstream. One result of congressional scrutiny was the largest single grant in history, the Ford Foundation's gift of over $550 million in 1955 for private universities, medical schools, and hospitals. While relatively unimaginative, this gift helped offset the massive governmental funding of public universities.

The developing world was an area of significant philanthropic activity in the 1950s and 1960s. One major focus was on plant genetics, with the goal of increasing food production. Started initially by the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico, such agricultural research was drastically expanded with Ford Foundation support in the 1960s, leading to the Green Revolution. The research targeted cereal grains such as rice, and resulted in dramatically increased food supplies. India even became a food exporter for the first time. Philanthropies also expanded studies in human genetics and family planning, which helped reduce population growth.

Foundations resumed major political engagement in the 1960s. Nelson Rockefeller, with significant support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, commissioned a series of policy studies in the late 1950s that became the basis of numerous initiatives in the Kennedy administration. The Rockefeller Foundation president, Dean Rusk, joined the administration as secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Corporation, John Gardner, served as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Gardner left in 1968 to form the citizens' lobby Common Cause, and later, Independent Sector to promote nonprofit organizations. McGeorge Bundy, the dean at Harvard, became Kennedy and Johnson's national security adviser, and left government to head the Ford Foundation. Under its public affairs director, Paul Ylvisaker, Ford began increasingly to address civil rights issues, supporting the Gray Areas Program in inner cities, funding voter registration drives, and backing the controversial Community Action Programs. Other philanthropic efforts included grants to explore Head Start programs and public television.

The increased visibility of foundation philanthropy led to new congressional investigations, such as one led by the populist U.S. representative Wright Patman starting in 1961. An indirect result was the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which restricted political activity, increased reporting requirements, and forced a payout percentage of foundation assets. Foundation reaction was generally supportive, and John D. Rockefeller III initiated the Filer Commission on

Private Philanthropy and Public Needs in 1973 to help strengthen and increase philanthropic effectiveness.

In response to the perceived leftward tilt of many mainstream foundations, more conservative foundations, such as the Olin Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Bradley Foundation, began developing strategies for a revival of conservatism. The presidential victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980 resulted in part from the strategic policy support of conservative foundations. By the 1980s there had emerged blocks of foundations that supported various sides of the policy spectrum. Reagan's partial dismantling of the social safety net increased the pressures on nonprofits and private philanthropy to make up for the decline in federal social spending. Also bringing attention to the role of private philanthropy was President George H. W. Bush's call for "a thousand points of light"—although Republicans have at least rhetorically favored small contributors over professional foundations. Democrats have relied upon their own philanthropic allies to fund the studies necessary for the continuation of favorite policies, as when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported Hillary Clinton's health care reform initiatives in the mid-1990s.

While the vast majority of philanthropy is devoted to domestic matters, the end of the Cold War led to an expanded international effort on the part of American foundations. The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev stemmed in part from Carnegie Corporation support in the 1980s, and soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ford Foundation established an office in Moscow. Financier George Soros formed the Open Society Fund to create the private Central European University and to encourage democratic pluralism in eastern Europe. In 1997 media mogul Ted Turner pledged a billion dollars to the United Nations over a ten-year period, the largest gift in history, in part to encourage others of the newly rich to donate more to philanthropic causes.

The Future of Philanthropy

After almost a century of criticism from the left, the right, and populists on all sides, what is significant is that philanthropy has become an accepted part of American political culture. Despite all the political involvement of foundation philanthropy in controversial policy areas, there have not been any congressional investigations for over thirty years. In the coming decades, philanthropy will become of increasing importance, as the passing of the World War II generation will lead to the greatest transfer of wealth in history, in the trillions of dollars. Much of that will be turned over to philanthropic foundations, which will continue America's distinctive tradition of encouraging private expenditures for public purposes.


Arnove, Robert F. ed. Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

Bremner, Robert H. American Philanthropy. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

The Chronicle on Philanthropy. Available at A biweekly publication that is an essential starting point for current philanthropic activity.

Dowie, Mark. American Foundations: An Investigative History. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001.

The Foundation Center. Available at Basic research on the largest foundations can be found here.

Hall, Peter Dobkin. Inventing the Nonprofit Sector and Other Essays on Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Nonprofit Organizations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Hammack, David, ed. Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Karl, Barry D. "Foundations and Public Policy." In Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century. Vol. 1. Edited by Stanley Kutler. New York: Scribners, 1996.

Kiger, Joseph C. Philanthropic Foundations in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. Kiger was the research director of the Cox Committee.

Lagemann, Ellen Condliffe, ed. Philanthropic Foundations: New Scholarship, New Possibilities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.

O'Connell, Brian, ed. America's Voluntary Spirit: A Book of Readings. New York: The Foundation Center, 1983.

Fred W.Berttler

See alsoCarnegie Corporation of New York ; Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching ; Carnegie Institution in Washington ; Charity Organization Movement ; Dartmouth College Case ; Rockefeller Foundation ; Sanitary Commission, United States .

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Active in English usage by the seventeenth century, philanthropy has been shown more recently to have a long, complex, and controversial history displaying multiple meanings of the term. Now philanthropy is normally construed as love of mankind, a voluntary, practical benevolence toward others, or an effort to promote the welfare of humanity by gifts without self-benefit. However, philanthropy over the long span of its use in Western civilization has gained and shed a more diverse array of meanings. Historically, the dynamic succession of human ambitions and virtues associated with the term implicate philanthropy in the creation of cosmic and social hierarchies, the politics of city life, the proliferation of faiths, the making of laws, and the governance of states. Philanthropic behavior also helped to form economic systems like capitalism and has accelerated both the pursuit of knowledge and the pace of artistic innovation. To comprehend the significations of philanthropy over time requires a multidimensional perspective attentive to its many spatial, material, cultural, psychological, and ethical impacts over time.

For much of recorded history, charity and philanthropy are indistinguishable and must be analyzed together to understand the evolution of the latter term. Historically, such giving has more often been construed as an imperative duty rather than as a choice of the fortunate toward the misfortunate. Only recently have forces of religious schism, liberalism, and individualism broken charity's traditional lien on property. Ancient service to the needy requires attention not only to the actual poor and their real needs, but also to the social imagination of the rich. Perceptions of dangerous want by the wealthy, accurate or not, more often determined the type and direction of their giving. The demand for and the supply of philanthropy rarely accord. Past disjunctures here, grown unbearable to new generations of aspiring benefactors, have caused epochal changes in the practice and meaning of philanthropy, religion, and politics.

Ancient Mediterranean Examples

The peoples of the ancient Mediterranean world made enduring contributions to the definitions and practices of philanthropy. In their law codes from the third millennium b.c.e., Babylonian kings decreed special punishments for the strong who abused the weak. These provisions made justice and clemency hallmarks of nobility. Babylonian epic poetry, exemplified by the Gilgamesh cycle (c. 2000 b.c.e.), reiterated this message. Verses retold the misfortunes of misanthropic kings while celebrating generosity and self-sacrifice as vital steps toward civilization. Contemporaneous Egyptian sacred writings such as The Book of the Dead make it clear that anyone's successful passage to the afterlife depended on a lifetime record of benevolent acts toward the suffering. Egyptian deities expected postulants for immortality to swear that they had never denied food to the starving, drink to the thirsty, and clothing to the ragged. Islam's many later commandments that the faithful must be charitable derive from philanthropy's sacred character among Semitic peoples in antiquity.


Ancient Judaism went farther, postulating a single God as the epitome of generosity. All of creation belonged to Jehovah, but he gave the Israelites the promised land, sheltering them as refugees ("for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me"; Lev. 25:23). Israel itself is defined in Jewish sacred writings as a foundling nation, rescued by the Lord. Repeated Mosaic descriptions of the deity as an avenger of the orphaned, the widowed, and the homeless compel Jews, in turn, to help the bereft ("Love the stranger therefore, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt"; Deut. 10:19). Here, misanthropy equals apostasy, and pious Jews are required to be givers. Charity becomes a mode of divine worship, and rituals of giving organize all Hebrew calendars. Days of celebration and atonement marking the lunar year must be accompanied by shared meals and presents. Seasonal harvests close with free gleanings in the fields accorded to the impoverished. Tithes to benefit the poor, priests, and slaves run at three-, seven-, and fifty-year cycles, perpetuating acts of charity among the tribes of Israel. Synagogues themselves embodied Judaism's charitable imperatives with spaces designed for the kindly deposit and distribution of alms. Donors left gifts secretly in one room of the temple. Beneficiaries collected the offerings in a second room unseen by contributors and thus immune to any shame in the transaction. Such philanthropic constructs prefigure the hierarchies of giving explained by Jewish sages such as Moses ben Maimon (11351204 c.e.). Voluntary donors who act anonymously and who succeed in organizing others in durable networks of mutual aid get highest praise in this literature.

By the turn to the common era, gifts in Jewish communities had intensified as markers of social status and priestly privileges. More punctilious but also more debatable charitable acts invigorated Jewish sectarianism. Out of this controversy, disaffected Jews, like the Galilean, Jesus, sought for a more humble and true charity.

Greek models.

Westerners owe the word philanthropy to the Greeks, who, since the fifth century b.c.e. ceaselessly elaborated on their idea of philanthropia. This concept they first embodied in the benevolent god Prometheus, who dared to share divine fire with mortals and suffered Zeus's wrath for his generosity. Greeks also revered their gods Hermes and Eros as especially philanthropic for the gifts of wisdom and desire they imparted to men. Greek fascination with knowledge as a gift freely communicated to mortals by other wise men registers in Plato's presentation of the philosopher Socrates stating the philanthropic nature of teaching (Euthyphro, c. 400 b.c.e.). The love of learning and discriminating art patronage employed by the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great induced his Greek biographer Xenophon to praise the monarch's supremely phil-anthropic soul (Cyropaedia, c. 380 b.c.e.). Here are the origins of the honorific by which Greek subjects addressed the emperors of Byzantium for centuries: "Your Philanthropy." This title was doubly appropriate since, by the sixth century c.e., a "philanthropy" in Greek also meant the tax exemption Byzantine emperors regularly gave to their favorite charities such as hospitals, orphanages, and schools. The tax-exempt condition of many modern philanthropies is ancient, and this type of privilege has long contributed to shaping various status hierarchies within Western societies.

In Greek cities, many forms of philanthropy combined to strengthen urban culture. Most important were the civic liturgies rich men assumed either voluntarily or under heavy peer pressure. These duties obligated wealthy citizens to subsidize personally the cost of temples, city walls, armories, granaries, and other municipal amenities promoting inhabitants' common identity and welfare. Prominent citizens vied with one another in the performance of these indiscriminate gifts to show the superiority of their own civic virtue. Personal vanity was a prime motive for donors, but rich citizens risked ostracism by peers and plebs if they failed to appreciate their wealth as a trust in which the community had a share. Greek philanthropists showed a genius for converting their gifts into potent symbols of communal strength and solidarity. Groups of wealthy men regularly paid for all the equipment necessary to stage the great Greek dramatic festivals. Such gifts of theaters, scripts commissioned from leading playwrights, costumes, and actors shaped the physical and cultural environments of Greek cities, gave audiences memorable lessons in civility, and enshrined drama as one of the greatest media of collective artistic expression in the West.

Roman philanthropia.

As conquerors, heirs, and cautious emulators of the Greeks, the Romans assumed better regulation of what they called philanthropia to be among the greatest obligations of their civilization. Influential authors like Cicero and Seneca composed manuals on the arts of proper gift giving and receipt. Seneca, tutor to the emperor Nero, emphasized that elite giving must generate gratitude between the vertical ranks of Roman society and argued that philanthropy rightly done formed the "glue" that held the Roman people together (On Benefits, composed c. 60 c.e.). Thus benefactors had to select appreciative beneficiaries carefully and choose presents capable of eliciting maximum acknowledgment from recipients. Heads must rule hearts in discriminate Roman philanthropy. Roman rulers took this advice with emperors asserting exclusive right to make choice gifts of baths, gymnasia, fountains, and gladiatorial games to the Roman population. The elaboration of Roman law aided less exalted philanthropists by giving legal status to trusts, charitable endowments, and mutual-aid societies. But the propensity of many donors to use such legal instruments for self-glorification, personally advantageous politicking, and the conservation of family wealth did little to help larger numbers of the destitute in growing Roman imperial cities. To Latins, philanthropy also meant the proper conduct of diplomacy, special respect for foreign ambassadors, fidelity to sworn treaties, and generous terms of alliance offered to defeated enemies. The propagandists of empire cited these philanthropies as justifications of Roman imperialism and the superiority of Roman civilization.

Christian Regimes of Philanthropy

The radical, roving holy man Jesus of Nazareth rebelled against all existing regimes of self-serving philanthropy in the ancient world simply by proclaiming: "Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20). The master commanded early apostles to abandon without recompense all material possessions by almsgiving and to strive for ever deeper humility through personal alms seeking, courting rejection and abuse at every door. The earliest Christian writings, the letters of Paulcomposed c. 5458 c.e.advocate in part this radical social ethic demanding that all believers become tireless benefactors. Those formerly accustomed to being mere protégés of greater patrons must now aspire themselves to become protectors of their neighbors no matter how humble they all may be. Paul raised up new communities of donors to be inspired by Jesus's manifest love and empowered spiritually and philanthropically through the church. New Testament evangelists amplified this charitable theme, emphasizing how Jesus immediately cared for the suffering even by doing good works on the Sabbath in contravention of Jewish worship protocols (Mark 3:4 and 6:25). Jesus personified as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:2937) emphasized that one's obligation to help the stricken must extend to all and transcend ethnocentric notions of racial superiority, caste privilege, and self-interest. Fundamental tenets of Christianity formed as its exponents did battle with more ancient regimes of philanthropy.

Early Christian bishops, locked in vicious power struggles with old pagan elites for control of crumbling Roman imperial cities, could not be so generous. Anxious to portray themselves as potent "lovers of the poor," they continually revised Christian doctrines on alms, riches, and the poor to gain disciplined blocks of loyal followers. Fidelity to Jesus's more selfless teachings was sacrificed as bishops toned down earlier rebukes of the wealthy, courted rich donors with preferred places in new congregations, and increasingly described alms-giving as a means by which the ordinary faithful could atone for their personal sins under reinforced church discipline. The crucial Christian linkage of philanthropy and penance enticed givers to look upon their alms as a form of spiritual capital accumulation and intensified self-centered motives for giving. Worldly charitable deposits would ultimately enable pious donors to boast in heaven about the purity of their own souls and to secure personal salvation.

Church efforts to monopolize regulation and distribution of alms, especially through fixed monastic offices, were continually challenged during the Middle Ages. Philanthropic insurrectionarieslike St. Francis of Assisiembraced poverty in apostolic fashion and preferred direct care to the wretched within recovering European cities. Lay members of medieval civic confraternities, who pledged to help one another and to care for needy fellow citizens, thereby diminishing urban violence, also challenged ecclesiastical control of philanthropy. Voluntary brothers and sisters sought to convert their good works into better lives for fellow citizens, enhancing the social and spiritual capital of all.

Early Modern Refinements

Both the rise of the state and intensified religious conflict in early modern times contributed to critical redefinitions of philanthropy. This was especially true if kings meddled in religious affairs, as when King Henry VIII of England organized a new English Episcopal Church in the 1530s while systematically destroying Catholic institutions of worship and charity within his realm. These royal actions promoting the English Reformation first made it imperative for Tudor rulers to create a tax-supported poor-relief program to replace vanished Catholic charities. Then statesmen became determined to increase the efficiency of all remaining private philanthropic organizations so as to spare the state from unnecessary subventions of the needy. The result was the famous Elizabethan Statute of Charitable Uses (1601) that defined in passing legally acceptable charities. But this legislation far more amply encouraged private citizens and government officers to investigate and to sue surviving philanthropies and their private trustees for any suspected mismanagement of endowments now deemed vital to maintenance of public order.

The Reformations became a manifold gift crisis as Europeans questioned God's bounty to man, what humans could offer the divine, and what they owed to one another. With Protestants facing off against Catholics, the integrity of Christian charity collapsed as giving became more sectarian. Surviving benevolent organizations competed fiercely for the smaller pools of total gift capital rival faiths could muster. Charity officials turned to perpetual fundraising campaigns and creatively diversified their funding sources, enhancing tactics of resource management vital to capitalism's success. Churchmen on all sides complained that impetuous philanthropy would be not only wasteful, but also a boon to heresy if it wrongly benefited religious opponents. Agents of police, including clerics, denounced the poor as disruptively irreligious and denied them any legitimate right to aide from the rich. These conditions sanctioned a reconceptualization of philanthropy as a riskier matter of choice and optional capital investment that should produce demonstrable returns in accord with the sacred and secular beliefs of donors. The current vogue for "entrepreneurial philanthropy" has ample precedents in early modern history.

Modern "Scientific" Philanthropy

Reformation-era debates over giving accelerated the secularization, rationalization, and nationalization of philanthropy. Disgusted with doctrinaire religious bickering and giving, statesmen-philosophers of the European Enlightenment sought to define and effect a "scientific philanthropy" that would efficiently benefit the truly needy and entire nations as well. Legislators in England, France, and central Europe simultaneously denounced private and religious endowed charitable foundations whose limited antique purposes or beneficiaries had been rendered obsolete by the passage of time. Parliamentarians enacted legislation to curb the creation of foundations via gifts of land to permanent endowments and they favored methods of ad hoc fundraising to meet any community's pressing needs. Utilitarians of the nineteenth century, like John Stuart Mill, advocated closer national supervision of all charities and politically mandated investment of their liquid assets in state bonds to enhance their public benefit and economic partnership with government. Britain's national Charity Commissioners, first deputized by Parliament in 1818 and made permanent in 1853, soon exercised authorization and annual inspection powers over all philanthropic organizations.

In America, colonial and then state constitutions differed widely in the encouragement and discouragement of private philanthropy leading to the failure of many interstate charitable bequests and organizations. This frustrating situation spurred many legal battles and multiple interventions by the U.S.. Supreme Court, including the famous Dartmouth College case decision in 1819. Here, the justices quashed an attempt by the governor and state legislature of New Hampshire to take over Dartmouth College and change its curriculum to meet state needs. The court held that the state's plan violated the school's charter and grossly abused the law of contracts. That charter, obtained from the royal provincial governor by the college's founders in colonial times, was itself a contract between the government that issued it and the trustees of the college. By the U.S. Constitution, such agreements could be altered only if all parties to the original contract, or their successors, concurred. This point of law reinforced the separation of church and state while also promoting the freedom of conscience and speech for the agents of philanthropic corporations.

Early Americans fought hard in the courts to compile a body of law stipulating the rights of incorporated philanthropies and protecting them against government spoliation. Boosters of charity organization societies in England and America campaigned successfully for greater coordination and professionalization of philanthropic work, castigating "mere charity" as wasteful, sentimental, and incapable of solving the modern socioeconomic problems caused by urbanization and industrialization. The rise of "social work" as an accredited, data-driven service vocation in modern times exemplifies the triumph of a professionalized and scientific philanthropy. This trend strengthened when immensely wealthy and influential captains of U.S. industry, like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Sr., transferred their millions to personal philanthropic corporations organized and operated in accord with rigorous business principles. Foundation executives, confronted with the necessity of managing endowments now more often comprised of corporate stock, recruited highly skilled staffs to handle the accumulation and pay out of philanthropic capital.

Jewish benefactors contributed to these trends by subsidizing a wider array of causes and organizations, like loan funds, hospitals, and support networks for Eastern European immigrants, the aid being more practical and scientific than pious in nature. The advent of Zionism in the nineteenth century, the calamity of the Holocaust, and the creation of the state of Israel catalyzed modern Jewish philanthropy as a means of nation building and commemoration of historic events.

By contrast, ancient Islamic forms of philanthropy have remained very influential in Muslim communities throughout modern times, especially support of Koranic schools, mosques, public works, and poor relief. Vital here is the enduring medieval institution of the waqf (pl. awqaf ), a transfer in perpetuity of real estate or productive property to support a religious or charitable institution forever. Islamic law stipulates the inviolability of such endowments, postulating Allah himself as their owner. This level of material security greatly appealed to elite Moslem property owners living under rapacious monarchs and without recourse to fixed laws of testation and property succession by heirs. They created many family awqaf with immediate kin and descendants richly rewarded as the direct beneficiaries or well-paid administrators of these endowments. Here, institutionalized philanthropy as protection of clan interests and as projection of political protest elicited the wrath of Muslim state rulers, ancient and modern. In the post-colonial Mid-East, secularizing Turkish and Arab nationalist governments (in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia) have resorted to confiscations of waqf properties, advancing state policies at the expense of traditional philanthropies and their prime beneficiaries, especially clerics. Such tactics underscore the fragility of civil society in the region and promote sectarian conflict.

In modern times, the rise of mass-circulation daily newspapers and muckraking exposés significantly reshaped Western philanthropy, as journalists produced stories decrying socioeconomic problems, the irrelevance of existing charities, and the need for better benevolent organizations. Learned societies and professional bodieslike bar associations, incorporated as nonprofit organizations, contributed their journals and specialized studies to a growing flood of information about the best means, measures, and objectives of effective philanthropy. Generalized contempt for charity's dead hand made constant self-scrutiny and a capacity for self-renewal to meet new social problems prized attributes of modern philanthropic organizations. Many newer charitable foundations are even primed to spend themselves out of existence and self-destruct after a set period of time so as to prevent their social obsolescence. These achievements have often brought greater coherence between the demand and supply of philanthropy. The remarkable dynamism of the nonprofit sector in the United States and abroad, signaled by the proliferation of private family foundations, grassroots community foundations, and donor-advised funds highly responsive to the fluid social awareness and giving interests of contributors, demonstrates broader public participation in historic debates over the real meaning of philanthropy. For the moment, this agitation confirms rather than subverts modern philanthropy's scientific pretensions.

See also Christianity ; Poverty ; Property ; Wealth .


Andrew, Donna. Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Brown, Peter. Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2002.

Cavallo, Sandra. Charity and Power in Early Modern Italy: Benefactors and Their Motives in Turin, 15411789. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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Loewenberg, Frank M. From Charity to Social Justice: The Emergence of Communal Institutions for the Support of the Poor in Ancient Judaism. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2001.

McCarthy, Kathleen D. American Creed: Philanthropy and the Rise of Civil Society, 17001865. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Miller, Howard S. The Legal Foundations of American Philanthropy, 17761844. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1961.

Safely, Thomas M. Charity and Economy in the Orphanages of Early Modern Augsburg. Boston: Humanities Press, 1997.

Veyne, Paul. Bread and Circuses: Historical Sociology and Political Pluralism. London: Penguin, 1992.

Weissman, Ronald. Ritual Brotherhood in Renaissance Florence. New York: Academic Press, 1982.

Winter, Bruce W. Seek the Welfare of the City: Christians as Benefactors and Citizens. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994.

Kevin C. Robbins

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The word philanthropy derives from the Greek word philanthrōpos, meaning love of mankind. In more conventional terms, it is the act of giving money to charitable causes. Although among western cultures giving has its roots in Judeo-Christian notions of tithing, or contributing to ones church, philanthropy has also been linked to capitalism.

Philanthropy has become a cultural norm in the United States. Americans give their money at a higher rate than any other country in the world. Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is given to nonprofits (Gaudiani 2003). Although corporations and foundations practice philanthropy, the real power of American giving lies with individuals. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (2003), individual gifts represented approximately 76 percent of the money raised by U.S. nonprofits in 2002.

Philanthropy is seen by some as a supplement to government, and by others as a way to effect change without involving government. Much of the funding for religious, artistic, educational, and health-related causes comes from philanthropic sources. In fact, many cultural, religious, and artistic organizations are almost entirely dependent on philanthropic donations. The government gives these organizations tax-exempt status in the United States. Scholars of philanthropy have identified these nonprofit organizations as the third sector, as they are neither public nor private in nature (Payton 1991).

Throughout history there have been many critics of philanthropy. On a theoretical level, Marxists have argued that philanthropy is another aspect of capitalism that serves the interests of the rich; on an empirical one, social scientists such as C. Wright Mills showed how a small group of families control the wealth in capitalist nations, and any notion of creating social mobility through philanthropic assistance may be a mere illusion. More recently, scholars have considered race as a factor in philanthropic issues of control (Anderson 1988; Watkins 2001). In this regard there are many examples of philanthropists exerting pressure on recipients of their gifts. The oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller Sr. often tied rigid stipulations to his donations, especially those given to African American education. According to historian James D. Anderson (1988), during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Rockefeller and his associates funded only vocational and manual arts education for blacks, while supporting the liberal arts for whites. Philanthropists such as the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and Sears and Roebuck founder Julius Rosenwald followed Rockefellers lead (Anderson 1988; Watkins 2001). In addition to their philanthropic efforts in the United States, the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations participated (and continue to participate) in extensive overseas initiatives, including school building in many African countries, health-related efforts in South America, and housing and agricultural programs throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. Many have questioned whether these efforts truly help the recipient nations, or merely serve the interests of U.S. foreign policy and global capitalism. On occasion, foundations have been publicly criticized for the projects that they fund both in the United States and abroad. For example, in 2003 the Jewish Telegraphic Association, a New York wire service, accused the Ford Foundation of funding organizations that supported anti-Semitic behavior. Initially, Ford denied the allegations, but the sometimes controversial foundation later learned that some of their grantees were, in fact, promoting anti-Semitic attitudes. This realization forced the foundation to make policy changes and caused discontent in the foundation world as these nonprofits worried about government interference in their grant making.

Over the course of U.S. history some have felt that the nation must choose between government-controlled and private solutions to social problems. This perspective was especially prevalent during the Roosevelt administration. Angered by Franklin D. Roosevelts New Deal policies, many of the countrys wealthy individuals refused to give because they felt the government had taken over the domain of philanthropya domain that they believed was rightfully theirs (Cutlip 1965). Some factions continue to hold this view today. However, most philanthropists see their gifts as a supplement to the support that government provides.

According to the conventional view, a philanthropist is a wealthy person who gives to those with less. Yet this definition tends to obscure acts of giving by middle- and lower-income people; moreover, it depicts philanthropy as primarily a white male enterprise. In response, some scholars, including Andrea Walton (2005), Emmett D. Carson (1993), Kathleen McCarty (1991), and Marybeth Gasman and Katherine Sedgwick (2005), have expanded the definition to include the giving of small monetary sums, time, and goods. Under this new definition, American philanthropists include the very wealthiest (e.g., Andrew Carnegie, George Eastman, Bill Gates, and John D. Rockefeller) and those with barely enough to make ends meet. In fact, individuals in the lowest income brackets tend to donate as much or more than their higher-waged counterparts as a percentage of their income. And in this view, minorities and women are as much philanthropists as white men. For example, a survey conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2003 found that African Americans in particular give 25 percent more of their discretionary income to charity than whites (Anft and Lipman 2003).

The March of Dimes is an excellent example of the power of collective and small donors. From 1938 to 1954, 4 billion dimes, many of them collected one at a time from all sectors of the U.S. population, paved the way toward a cure for polio. Another example of vast philanthropic giving from small donors can be seen in the black churches, where parishioners, often nearly destitute themselves, donate more than 10 percent of their income. In recent times, the tragedy of September 11, 2001 spurred renewed interest in philanthropy among ordinary Americans. Besides the $2.9 billion in monetary contributions that citizens gave in the wake of the disaster, there were enormous in-kind contributions as well. For example, in the initial days after the tragedy, more than 500,000 people donated blood at American Red Cross centers across the fifty states, even after blood supplies were deemed adequate.

An innovative form of philanthropy that has emerged from the newest generation of American entrepreneurs and capitalists is venture, or high-engagement philanthropy. In this approach, the donor is engaged beyond providing financial support to the nonprofit organization. Venture philanthropists often require their grantees to craft, with their assistance, strategic and long-term plans, find other sources of funding, and create new partnerships. As it is a recent development, few scholars have been able to assess venture philanthropys effectiveness and value. However, some skeptics have likened this new form of philanthropy to that of the turn-of-the-century industrial philanthropistslarge sums of money accompanied by large amounts of interference.


Anderson, James D. 1988. The Education of Blacks in the South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Anft, Michael, and Harvy Lipman. 2003. How Americans Give: Chronicle Study Finds That Race Is a Powerful Influence. Chronicle of Philanthropy, May 1.

Association of Fundraising Professionals. 2003.

Carson, Emmett D. 1993. A Hand Up: Black Philanthropy and Self-Help in America. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Cutlip, Scott. 1965. Fund Raising in the United States: Its Role in American Philanthropy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Gasman, Marybeth, and Katherine V. Sedgwick, eds. 2005. Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.

Gaudiani, Claire. 2003. The Greater Good. New York: Times Books.

Letts, Christine W., William Ryan, and Allen Grossman. 1997. Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn from Venture Capitalists. Harvard Business Review 75 (2): 3644.

McCarty, Kathleen, ed. 1990. Lady Bountiful Revisited: Women, Philanthropy, and Power. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Payton, Robert. 1991. The Third Sector. Leadership News 9: 68.

Walton, Andrea, ed. 2005. Women and Philanthropy in Education. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Watkins, William. 2001. White Architects of Black Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Marybeth Gasman

Noah D. Drezner

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philanthropy, the spirit of active goodwill toward others as demonstrated in efforts to promote their welfare. The term is often used interchangeably with charity. Every year vast sums of money are collected for invaluable philanthropic purposes, and an increasing number of people participate in the work of collecting money through highly organized campaigns, the purpose of which is fund-raising. In many countries philanthropy has been incorporated in government policy in the form of tax exemptions for contributions to charitable agencies. It has become so accepted that few now escape the demands of giving, and many important institutions are partly or wholly dependent on it.

In early times, charity was usually prompted by religious faith and helped to assure a reward in an afterlife, a notion found in Egypt many centuries before the Christian era. Throughout history, active participation in philanthropy has been a particular characteristic of Western societies. A traditional philanthropic ideal of Christianity is that of the tithe, which holds that one tenth of a person's income should go to charity. Charity is also important in Islam, Buddhism, and other religions. Foundations—institutions that distribute private wealth for public purposes—also have an ancient history.

At the end of the 19th cent. it was recognized that corporations could play a part in financing voluntary agencies when the Young Men's Christian Association set a new pattern for raising money: intensive drives over a short period of time, the use of sophisticated techniques to raise money, and an emphasis on corporation donations. Other voluntary agencies soon copied this pattern, and it is still the typical practice for large-scale fundraising. During World War I, coordination of effort became a trend in philanthropic activity. In the United States, this coordination took the form of Community Chests, which combined a number of charities under one appeal, now known as the United Way.

Today the organization and coordination of philanthropy has eliminated much of the spontaneity of giving. They have also brought about a more rational assessment of ability to give as well as the introduction of scientific methods of ascertaining community and national needs and of raising money. The focus has also shifted from the relief of immediate need to long-term planning to prevent future need.

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505. Philanthropy (See also Generosity, Patronage.)

  1. Appleseed, Johnny nickname of John Chapman (c. 17751847), who traveled through the Ohio Valley giving away apple seeds and caring for orchards. [Am. Hist.: Colliers, IV, 569]
  2. Carnegie, Andrew (18351919) steel magnate who believed the rich should administer wealthfor public benefit. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 83]
  3. Guggenheim 19th- and 20th-century family name of American industrialists and philanthropists. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1159]
  4. Mellon, Andrew (18551937) financier and public official; left large sums for research and art. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1743]
  5. Rhodes, Cecil (18531902) British imperialist; left millions of pounds for public service; notably, the Rhodes scholarships. [Br. Hist.: NCE, 2316]
  6. Rockefeller, John D(avison) (18391937) American multimillionaire; endowed many institutions. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 431]

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phi·lan·thro·py / fəˈlan[unvoicedth]rəpē/ • n. the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed esp. by the generous donation of money to good causes. ∎  a philanthropic institution; a charity. DERIVATIVES: phi·lan·thro·pism / -pizəm/ n. phi·lan·thro·pize / -pīz/ v.

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"philanthropy." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"philanthropy." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (December 15, 2017).

"philanthropy." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from


philanthropy XVII. — late L. philanthrōpia — Gr. philanthrōpíā, f. philánthrōpos, f. phil- PHILO- + ánthrōpos man; see -Y3.
So philanthropic, philanthropist XVIII.

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"philanthropy." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"philanthropy." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from


philanthropycroupy, droopy, goopy, groupie, loopy, pupae, roupy, snoopy, soupy, Tupi •whoopee •duppy, guppy, puppy, yuppie •gulpy, pulpy •bumpy, clumpy, dumpy, frumpy, grumpy, humpy, jumpy, lumpy, plumpy, rumpy-pumpy, scrumpy, stumpy •hiccupy • chirrupy • calliope •pericope • syncope •colonoscopy, horoscopy, microscopy, stereoscopy •Penelope • canopy • satrapy •lycanthropy, misanthropy, philanthropy •aromatherapy, chemotherapy, hypnotherapy, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, radiotherapy, therapy •entropy • syrupy (US sirupy) • chirpy

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"philanthropy." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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