The concept of charitable activity is deeply rooted in human nature and has been apparent across millennia. Understanding the history of philanthropy helps us know how this impulse has developed.
Before the Greek word philanthropy was coined, people served the poor by providing them with their resources. In addition to being religious, many of the most fervent servants also practiced charitable principles. During the 1500s, awqaf and other Islamic principles allowed for generous service in the Ottoman Empire. These principles continued to influence philanthropy throughout history.
Early Centralized Philanthropy
As the power structure became more centralized, more state-sponsored philanthropy was possible. Some examples of this include China and Rome. During the reign of Augustus, he used the empire’s funds to provide financial assistance to thousands of individuals. During the 10th century A.D., China’s Song Dynasty started allowing for the establishment of orphanages, soup kitchens, and other programs that were not always supported by the succeeding dynasties. In the 17th century A.D., the country became one of the first countries to provide senior citizens with homes.
Early American Giving
The spirit of fleeing persecution inspired many people to give. This was also reflected in the movement toward philanthropy in the U.S. One of the most prominent individuals who contributed to the development of this movement was Cotton Mather. His essay, “Essays to Do Good,” was published in 1710. His work propelled wealthy individuals to give generously during the Industrial Revolution. John Rockefeller and Warren Buffett are some of the most prominent individuals who contributed to the development of philanthropy. Both of these individuals made significant donations to various charitable organizations.
Reforms in the 20th Century
During the 20th century, many individuals gave to support various causes, such as those related to the war in Afghanistan and India’s freedom from Britain. This movement led to increased charitable giving in the U.S. Today, many of the country’s households are dedicated to addressing environmental and poverty issues. Additionally, many individuals volunteer their time and skills to help needy individuals and nonprofits. Participate in a long tradition of philanthropy today by sharing your wealth or your time!