The meaning of the word philanthropy is human kindness. Human beings, who do good deeds for others, are characterized as philanthropists.
The understanding of philanthropy is as varied as the philanthropists themselves (for example, the pedagogue Basedow, Mother Theresa or Bill Gates).
Our understanding of philanthropy can be described in one simple sentence:
Philanthropy includes every voluntary private action for a charitable purpose.
We are faced with the question why we do not choose another – more familiar – term to describe our range of activity.
You could choose the terms public utility, welfare or civil society.
Seen from an organisational point of view there are terms like nonprofit organisation (or not-for-profit organisation), or non-governmental-organisation (NGO) that could be used.
- Philanthropy is individual-related
Philanthropy places the focus on the acting person, whereas other terms have a societal reference.
Many philanthropic activities are not generated within an organized framework. This includes neighbourly help, spontaneous donations or social movements. In a world, which is affected by individualism, philanthropy is the answer to why people support the common welfare.
Every person has his or her own “philanthropic autobiography”, which means that everyone has come into contact with philanthropy at some point.
- Philanthropy is value-related
Philanthropy expresses a value system which can be characterized (in the broadest sense) as human kindness.
Philanthropic actions express ethical behaviour towards other people. This distinguishes philanthropy clearly from governmental and market-based actions.
A clarification based on values seems more important to us than a distinction based on economic purpose.
- Philanthropy is universal
Philanthropy exists worldwide and has its roots in the beginning of civilisation. Every world religion has philanthropic rules and recommendations. Nevertheless, philanthropy is free from political, religious or dogmatic affiliations.