What Is a Philanthropist and Why Do We Care?

9, 10, 11, 12

Learners will describe the significant impact that philanthropists have made in American civil and political life.

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • define "philanthropy."
  • give examples of philanthropy in America’s past and present.
  • describe how philanthropic acts reinforce Core Democratic Values.
Home Connection 

Learners will get parent/guardian involvement by discussing their views on philanthropy in the community and asking for an example of a philanthropist.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Write a list of varied and famous philanthropists on the board and ask learners “What do these people have in common?” Examples could include: Caesar Chavez, Andrew Carnegie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Jane Addams, Squanto,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. Discuss the commonality that all persons written on the board share. (all were/are philanthropists)

  2. Define "philanthropy" " as "the giving of one’s time, talent or treasure for the sake of another, or 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 students to the philanthropy timeline on the Learning to Give website. Peruse the dates for examples.

  4. To give the learners a broader idea of philanthropists in American life, use the "Learning to Give" briefing papers under the "people" category and have the learners each select a philanthropist to read about from the variety of persons listed.

  5. Have each learner summarize the information on the philanthropist selected and orally report to the class in a one or two minute review of the information. Each summary should conclude by naming the a democratic principleexhibited by each philanthropist. Core democratic principles include: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, common good, justice, equality, diversity, truth, popular sovereignty, patriotism, rule of law, separation of powers, representative government, checks and balances, individual rights, freedom of religion, federalism and civilian control of the military. (To streamline the sharing process, each student’s basic findings can be posted on a large sheet of paper around the classroom and the students 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. Standard DP 05. Role of Foundations
      1. Benchmark HS.3 List examples of gifts, from a variety of foundations, that are of value to the community.