What Is Philanthropy? A Call to Action

6, 7, 8

Inspired by stories of service, students gain understanding of philanthropy concepts and actions. They brainstorm acts of kindness and determine how they will contribute to the common good.

PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • define and use the vocabulary of philanthropy.
  • describe the characteristics of a philanthropist.
  • identify an opportunity cost.
  • brainstorm acts of kindness and giving.
  • Access to the Internet for research or printouts of stories of “Giraffe Heroes” (people who stick their heads out for the common good) accessed and printed from The Giraffe Heroes Project found at www.giraffe.org  Look in their database for stories of youth projects.

Have students write about their giving in a paragraph or poem. They can tell about the need they addressed, the action they took, and the impact on themselves.

  • www.giraffe.org, “Profiles of Giraffe Heroes”
  • Hoose, Phillip.  It’s Our World, Too! Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference.  Toronto: Little Brown and Co., 1993.  ISBN: 785711589.  There are practical suggestions for social action projects included in this book.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Write the word philanthropy in large letters on the board. Ask students to tell the meaning of this big word. After listening to their responses, clarify the definition as “giving of one’s time, talent or treasure and taking action for the sake of another, or for the common good.” Additional definitions include the following: “1) voluntary action for the public good; 2) voluntary giving, voluntary service and voluntary association, primarily for the benefit of others; 3) giving and serving; 4) active effort to promote human welfare.”

  2. Define common good (interests of all) and help students recall an easy action they took that put the interests of all above their own (being quiet in the library or showing respect for an opposing team). Guide a discussion about the meaning of "taking action for the common good" as service that involves individual citizens having the commitment and motivation to promote the welfare of the community (even if they must sacrifice their own time, personal preferences or money) to work together for the greater benefit of all.

  3. Tell the students to find a student in the class they don't know well. Say, "You will have five minutes to each share details of a time when they, or someone they know, did something kind for another or for the common good. After the five minutes, you and your partner will join with 2-3 other pairs to make a short list of the actions taken.” Teacher Note: It might be helpful for the teacher to model this conversation with a student. Suggest that the students take notes about the conversation. Give the students a couple minutes to think before starting the five-minute timer.

  4. Conduct the interviews and the reporting session.

  5. Allow the student groups time to explore the Giraffe Heroes website and choose a story of service they want to examine. Alternatively, print several stories in advance and give each small group a story of philanthropy from the Giraffe Heroes website. Ask the groups to read their stories and discuss the following:

    • What is the philanthropic act?
    • How did it help the common good?
    • What opportunity for themself did the philanthropist give up in order to act (opportunity cost)?
    • What are some traits of the philanthropist (generous, creative, selfless...)?
  6. As a class, brainstorm a list of actions the class can take as philanthropists. Start with a discussion about things they like about their community and things they would like to see changed (Blue Sky Activity). They may propose ways to volunteer time, share their talent, advocate for a cause, or donate treasure to address a need identified by the students.

  7. Guide the students to collectively select a service project they can do and make a plan to carry it out. The projects can range in scope and time commitment.  Help them plan for each component of the project, including investigating the issue and resources, deciding responsibilities for the plan, and taking action. Reflect regularly as they carry out the plan.

Cross Curriculum 

Students get ideas from the classroom stories and the stories they read for a giving action they can take for the common good.

Read about the service-learning project called Let the Reading Begin by Indiana students who were taught using this What Is Philanthropy? A Call to Action lesson to guide student learning and action. 

Ms. Short, an Indiana-based educator said, "Every project I facilitate brings out the best in all of my students and is also an excellent avenue for facilitating parent/family/community involvement.”

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how individuals have helped others.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.