In the past, philanthropy once solely focused on one’s empathy and desire to help others in society. Over time, that love for humanity has taken on a broader, more generalized theme, as people have donated resources to support the arts, new businesses, scientific research, and even government and political organizations.

A philanthropist is often one who is wealthy and one who has great resources to donate. He or she usually donates large sums of money to causes that mean something to them. In most cases, philanthropists will work through an organization to ensure their donations do reach the intended recipients. They may work alongside schools, art councils, private businesses, charity organizations, the media, or healthcare organizations. The desire to do good in this way can be prompted by any number of reasons, including a lack of meaning or morality in the philanthropist’s life.

Philanthropy Throughout History

When the Holy Roman Empire fell, so did the passion for philanthropy that the civilization had embraced. Those charitable endeavors were all but forgotten until the Italian Renaissance of the mid-15th century reignited an interest in humanism. Moral philosophy and ethics were especially important to the people of the day, influencing community leaders in the legal profession, business entrepreneurs, and in government.

Later, the Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries embraced more traditional themes of philanthropy. This was especially popular among the Scottish people, who felt the “key to happiness” lay in acts of philanthropy. Additionally, themes of self-development and living in harmony with the world around us become common endeavors.

By the time philanthropy became popular in the United States, during the 1800s, there was a mixed consensus about the practice. Some touted the good works of philanthropists, while others criticized them as “do-gooders” and cast a suspicious eye towards their acts. By the 20th century, however, private organizations helped to give philanthropists a better image and gave them better ways of distributing their donations. This helped philanthropy enter the mainstream, so, over the years, it has attracted donors from all walks of life. Today, business owners and entrepreneurs are encouraged to donate and, in some circles, it’s even expected of the more successful businesses.

Over the years, philanthropists have become as renowned as the celebrities of film, television, and modeling. From Dale Carnegie and Lance Armstrong to Bill and Melinda Gates, philanthropists are celebrated for their generosity and willingness to help build a better society. Through their acts of philanthropy, the wealthy and fortunate are helping to build a better society.