Lending a Helping Hand

6, 7, 8

Using the example of Benjamin Franklin’s philanthropy, learners will research the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and analyze why their work cannot wholly be replicated by government.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • list examples of the philanthropy of Benjamin Franklin and explain why Franklin helped define "good citizenship."
  • define and identify non-governmental organizations (NGO) and analyze why they are needed.
  • describe how society benefits from the work of NGOs.
  • Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) (Handout One)
  • Large map of the world
  • Glass headed pins or tacks
  • Learner copies of Reporter’s Account (Handout Two)


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    As a review of Benjamin Franklin’s role as a philanthropist (see Lesson One: Active Citizenship through the Spectacles of Benjamin Franklin), ask the learners, "How did Benjamin Franklin help others by finding solutions to problems?" (He invented bifocals, the flexible urinary catheter, the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, the odometer, the long arm for reaching things, swim fins and the glass armonica, a musical instrument. He suggested watertight compartments in ships’ holds, printed weather forecasts, charted the Gulf Stream, served as a diplomat and Postmaster of Philadelphia, launched projects to pave, clean and light Philadelphia’s streets, organized a Night Watch and Militia for Philadelphia, proposed Daylight Savings Time, wrote an anti-slavery treatise, worked on founding documents of the United States of America, used political cartoons to satirize events of the day, created the first subscription circulating library, helped establish the paper currency system in America, organized a young working-man’s group dedicated to self- and-civic improvement, and established the first fire company and the first fire insurance company.)

  2. Read the following quote to the learners which identifies Franklin as a philanthropist:

  3. "Ben Franklin believed that people volunteering together in a spirit of cooperation could accomplish great things. Driven by a strong sense of civic duty, he involved himself in his community and his nation. Always mindful of the "greater good," Franklin helped establish or improve institutions such as circulating libraries, public hospitals, mutual insurance companies, volunteer fire departments, agricultural colleges and intellectual societies. A role model still today, Ben Franklin helped define 'good citizenship'." http://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/l2_citizen.html Ask the learners to explain what was meant when it was said that Franklin "helped define good citizenship."

  4. Put the letters "NGO" on the chalkboard or overhead. Ask the learners to decipher the acronym by guessing what the letters represent. Explain that an NGO is a non-governmental organization. This term is used by non-American countries to define the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations are not-for-profit organizations that are not associated with any government, government agency or for-profit business. Have the learners name NGOs. (International Red Cross, Greenpeace International, National Coalition for the Homeless, Save the Children) Check Bibliographical References for others.

  5. To understand the work of a non-governmental organization, share information on Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) (Handout One). Discuss why this organization chooses to do its work as a non-governmental, non-profit organization. Ask, "Why is it important that MSF speaks out to the world on what is happening in the places they work?" "What core democratic values are being strengthened through the work of MSF?"

  6. Ask the learners to go to https://www.msf.org/international-activity-reports and have each learner select one article about a country that receives humanitarian assistance from MSF. They should complete Handout 2: Reporter's Account as they read about one country where Doctors Without Borders works. Ask the students to include details of what this NGO is doing that a government or business cannot do. (Why are nonprofit organizations better than governments at some jobs?)


In an article in their journals, learners should reflect on the idea of philanthropy and how "giving" was shown in the class project in support of an NGO. The article should reflect on the work of non-governmental organizations and explain why governments cannot effectively provide all the services given by NGOs.

Cross Curriculum 

Learners will research the work of North American NGOs and select one to support with a financial contribution.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Give examples of needs not met by the government, business, or family sectors.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify civil society organizations that protect and speak for minority viewpoints.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Give examples of how civil-society-sector giving can impact communities.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.10 Give historic and contemporary examples of a voluntary action by an individual or a private organization that has helped to enhance a fundamental democratic principle.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities and research.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
    3. Standard VS 04. Raising Private Resources
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Develop a service plan.
    4. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.