What is Philanthropy?

Human beings, who perform good deeds for others, are characterized as philanthropists. The understanding of philanthropy is as varied as the philanthropists themselves – just think for example of 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. One could choose the terms public utility, welfare or civil society. From an organizational perspective, terms like nonprofit organization (or not-for-profit organization), or non-governmental-organization (NGO) could be used. We have chosen the term philanthropy because it contains many aspects that are important to us.

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 neighborly help, spontaneous donations or social movements. In a world, affected by individualism, philanthropy is the answer to why people support 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 behavior 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 civilization. Every world religion has philanthropic rules and recommendations. Nevertheless, philanthropy is free from political, religious or other dogmatic affiliations.