What Is a Philanthropist and Why Do We Care?: Philanthropy Lesson (9th)

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will identify qualities that exemplify philanthropists and recognize those qualities in a local philanthropist.

Print One Class Period

The learner will:

  • define “philanthropy
  • give examples of philanthropy in America’s past and present.
  • describe how philanthropic acts reinforce American values and principles.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Write a list of varied American historical figures/philanthropists on the board and ask learners “What do these people have in common?” (They are all philanthropists and did something to improve the world.)

    Examples: Caesar Chavez, Andrew Carnegie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Jane Addams, Squanto, Clara Barton, W. E. B. Dubois, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, W.K.Kellogg, Eli Lilly, John Mott, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, Booker T. Washington, Rachel Carson, George Washington Carver.

  2. Define “philanthropy” as “the giving of one’s time, talent or treasure for the common good; voluntary action for the public good; or voluntary giving or service, primarily for the benefit of others.”

  3. Explain that philanthropy has been an integral part of the American experience since colonial days. Give the learners examples of philanthropy in history by referring to the Learning to Give Philanthropy Timeline. 

  4. To give the learners a broader idea of philanthropists in American life, have them each conduct quick/ big picture research on one person highlighted in the Learning to Give white papers, under "people."  To save time, have students work in pairs and/or pre-select a list of philanthropists from which to choose.

  5. Have each learner summarize the information on the philanthropist selected and report to the class in a one- or two-minute review of the information. Each review should include a reference to the “American Values and Principles” - see the handout here. 

    To streamline the sharing process, each learner writes their basic findings on a large sheet of paper and hangs them up around the classroom. All learners could do a class “walk about” to read about each philanthropist. A class discussion can follow, highlighting points of comparison.


The oral report summaries may be used as an assessment of learning.

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. 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.