"Dear Philanthropist"

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will be able to differentiate between a "philanthropist" and a "celebrity" and formulate questions to better understand the philanthropists' motivation for working for the common good.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Fifty-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • brainstorm a list of philanthropists from history (including current history).
  • choose a philanthropist from the past and, following a list of basic requirements, write a formal letter to that person.
  • A good working definition of "philanthropy" and "philanthropist" (See www.learningtogive.org)
  • Letter Requirements (Handout One)
  • List of Philanthropists from History (Handout Two)
  • Sample Letter (Handout Three)

Learning to Give Web site: https://www.learningtogive.org/


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    The teacher writes the word "philanthropist" on the board or overhead, then asks students what it means (accepting all basically correct answers and writing them under the word "philanthropist"). With four or five definitions on the board, the class decides on its "working definition" and writes it down in their notebooks. Compare this with the definition of philanthropist and philanthropy found on the www.learningtogive.org Web site (click on "Resource Room" and "Vocabulary"). Adjust the class definition if needed. If it doesn't come up, make sure students understand that "philanthropist" and "celebrity" are not synonymous.

  2. When the class has a definition of "philanthropist" ask for the name of someone they think is a philanthropist. Brainstorm a list of philanthropists (either from history or the current time), writing the names the class suggests on the board. (Hint: make sure to include the names of students themselves.) Write down all the names the students brainstorm. Set a time limit for this brainstorming activity.

  3. Begin going through the list, comparing what the students know about the person with the definition of philanthropist. If a person does not fit the class criteria for a philanthropist, erase his/her name. Discuss why each person either stays or goes from the list. At this point, you should distribute List of Philanthropists from History (Handout Two), if you choose to use it.

  4. Instruct students to choose a philanthropist about whom they would like to learn more from the handout or the class-generated list. Ask them to write down that person's name. Explain to students that they will be writing a letter to that person. This is to be a formal letter, including proper spelling, grammar, and form. Use Letter Requirements (Handout One). Discuss standards and requirements, and show Sample Letter (Handout Three). First draft should be done in class and approved by the teacher.


Informal assessment for participation in brainstorming activity, teacher approval of chosen philanthropist, and teacher approval of the first draft of the letter. (Hint: it is a good idea to keep a list of student choices and participation at this point.)

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Describe and give examples of characteristics of someone who helps others.