What Is Government Philanthropy?

9, 10, 11, 12

Students define and give examples of government philanthropy. They compare and contrast the four economic sectors. Small groups research a historical example of government philanthropy or civic action and write a persuasive piece to advocate for an issue related to government philanthropy.

PrintTwo 45-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • make meaning of the four sectors.
  • investigate one example of government philanthropy.
  • produce a graphic organizer or chart with research about an example of government philanthropy.
  • justify their position on the role of government philanthropy.
  • write a persuasive speech to advocate for an issue.
  • copy of handout Economic Sectors for each small group
  • access to the Internet for small-group research
  • chart paper and markers

History.com. "Civilian Conservation Corps."  https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1586.html


  1. Anticipatory Set

    Ask, "What is the government's responsibility when the basic needs of many of its citizens are not being met?" Discuss student reactions. Remind the students that President Bush envisioned "a thousand points of light," which means people across the country doing the work of meeting the needs of people that government couldn't meet. Tell them that during his presidency, civic engagement was at a low point.

    In this vision, Bush challenged citizens to be philanthropists. Define philanthropy as "civic action for the common good" (or as giving time, talent, or treasure for the common good). In later years, Bush became known as the father of the modern service movement.

    Brainstorm some examples of things people can do (help their neighbors, volunteer at a food pantry, contribute money toward health research).

  2. Tell the students that there are four sectors: Government, Civil Society, Business, and Household.Each of these sectors is essential and contributes to a healthy economy. Give each student a copy of the handout Economic Sectors and have them compare and contrast the purposes of the sectors.

    Using the information provided, ask student pairs to construct a Venn diagram of four intersecting circles showing how the four sectors take responsibility for a specific service in different ways. For example, write child care and wellness in the center of theintersecting circles and describe how each sector approaches this servicedifferently (e.g., The government provides Head Start for children in low-income families.)

  3. Hold a discussion, comparing and contrasting the four sectors. Tell the students that when Bush talked about "a thousand points of light" he was challenging the other sectors to support the government sector. It is common for the sectors to work together. For example, business may influence the government and government may act like a philanthropist. Explain the government bail-out of the banking and auto industries in 2008-09 as a form of government philanthropy.

  4. Show the students the following online photo essay about the Depression: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/depression/photoessay.htm. Ask the students to share what they already know about The Great Depression.

  5. Say, "During The Great Depression, many people were out of work. Many Americans struggled to feed, clothe, and sheltertheir families. Tell students that President Roosevelt expressed the following statement in 1933:

  6. Our greatest task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our national resources.

  7. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed young men between the ages of 17-24. They worked on projects designed to restore or improve the environment. Although the most common project was reforestation, participants also worked to reduce flooding conditions, improve water quality, and increase the number of fisheries. The CCC was an example of "government philanthropy."

  8. Ask these reflection questions: "What is the difference between government and government philanthropy?" and "How does government philanthropy compare to the civil society sectory? Does government philanthropy extend to for-profit organizations (e.g., 2009 bailout of General Motors)?"

  9. Day Two:

  10. In small groups, students research one example of government philanthropy (Social Security, Civilian Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps, foreign aid) or an example of civic action that made a big impact on history (American Revolution, Women's Suffrage, Civil Rights Movement). The research gathered includes a timeline of events, description of the purpose of the action/program (original impetus), results, and costs and benefits (in money and social change). Students record their findings on graphic organizers and charts for easy reference.

  11. Students take the role of a representative speaking to Congress. They write and present a 3-minute persuasive argument for or against government spending on government philanthropy projects today. Their argument should include facts from their research and answer the question, "Should government be involved in philanthropy?"

  12. Student groups may present their oral arguments to the class or on a video or podcast. Encourage them to include current issues in their presentation and use their persuasive piece as advocacy in a real-world setting (social media, local board meeting, letter to the president).


Graphic organizers and charts of gathered research must include thefollowing elements: timeline of at least five events,description of the purpose of the action/program (original impetus), results or outcomes of the action/program, and costs and benefits (in money and social change). Persuasive writing must include the perspective of a representative speaking to Congress. Their 3-minute argument should include facts from their research and answer the question, "Should government be involved in philanthropy?" Encourage creative presentation of the persuasive argument(social media, local board meeting, letter to the president).

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Explain and give examples of how a democratic constitution requires and protects philanthropic behavior as a democratic principle.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Give an example of individual philanthropic action that influenced national or world history.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.6 Identify and discuss conflicting viewpoints of how philanthropic actions relate to democratic principles.