The Not-So-Trivial Pursuit of the Common Good

6, 7, 8

Learners will understand that for profit and non-profit organizations help bring about breakthroughs in modern science/medicine. These contributions to the common good require the support of philanthropists, large and small.

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • identify and use key philanthropic terms.
  • describe recent medical or scientific/technological breakthroughs and identify funding that made them possible.
  • distinguish between the sectors of the economy and analyze how they contributed to medical breakthroughs.
  • construct and interpret timelines of medical and scientific breakthroughs.
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Learner copies of Recent Medical or Scientific Breakthroughs (handout below)
  • Learner copies of Medical Breakthroughs Do Not Depend on the Federal Government (handout below)
  • Show Me the Money! (handout below)

Have the learners reflect on the lesson by writing in their journals. They should tie together the terms philanthropycommon goodfor profit organization, non-profit organization, foundation and scientific breakthrough. They should add their point of view on the importance of philanthropy in medical and scientific breakthroughs.

  • Rubistar Homepage
  • Steelman, Aaron. "The Free Market of Scientific Research," from The Freeman. The American Cancer Society: May 1998, Vol. 48, No. 5. "Medical Breakthroughs Do Not Depend on the Federal Government" 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the students what they remember about the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. That summer, people all over the world raised money for ALS research, a currently incurable disease, by pouring ice water over their heads. Discuss the value of giving money to a nonprofit organization concerned with curing a disease. How can citizens make a difference even with a dollar?

  2. Place the following words on the board/overhead:

    • philanthropy: 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.
    • common good: Involves individual citizens having the commitment and motivation to promote the welfare of the community (even if they must sacrifice their own time, personal preferences or money) to work together with other members for the greater benefit of all.
    • for profit organization: An organization that is in business to make money for its owners.
    • non-profit organization: An organization whose income is not used for the benefit or private gain of stockholders, directors or any other persons with an interest in the company.
    • foundation: An organization created from special funds from which the income is distributed as grants to not-for-profit organizations or, in some cases, to people.
    • scientific breakthrough: A long-awaited medical discovery which will contribute to humanity.
  3. Go over the terms and ask for examples to make sure learners are familiar with the words. Explain that scientific breakthroughs are funded by the government, foundations, for profit organizations and non-profit organizations. Scientific breakthroughs benefit the common good. Those who contribute time, talent or funds to support scientific and medical breakthroughs are philanthropists, whether their contribution is large or small.

  4. Conduct a survey by asking the learners the following questions:

    1. How many of you have heard of medical or scientific/technological breakthroughs?
    2. Where have you heard about the breakthroughs? (television, radio, others, Internet, etc.)
    3. What are some of the breakthroughs that you’ve heard about? Have your lives been affected by these breakthroughs?
    4. What makes a scientific discovery or advancement a breakthrough in science?
    5. How do scientific breakthroughs come about? (solving societal problems for the common good, etc.)
    6. What are some of the components necessary for a breakthrough?
  5. Who creates "breakthroughs"? (scientists, professionals, everyday citizens with new ideas, etc.)

    • What is necessary to create a breakthrough? (societal issue, medical problem, improvement in quality of life, equipment, new ideas, etc.)
    • Where do breakthroughs happen? (research facilities, minds of people as new ideas, etc.)
    • How do breakthroughs happen? Where does the money come from?
    • Why do we as a society work so hard to make breakthroughs in science?
  6. Divide the learners into small groups of two or three. Distribute Recent Medical or Scientific Breakthroughs (handout). Using the Internet, have the teams research three recent medical or scientific breakthroughs, recording their names, uses and how they were discovered and developed. When teams have completed their research, conduct a whole group sharing of the breakthroughs learners discovered in their research or have the teams post the information on the wall and have the class do a "walk about."

  7. Distribute handout, Medical Breakthroughs Do Not Depend on the Federal Government. Read the article together and list the sources of funding for those breakthroughs. Discuss all means of funding: for profit organizations (drug companies, for example), non-profit organizations (universities, hospitals, foundations, for example) or private donations from citizens (philanthropy). In what ways can citizens contribute to scientific or medical research? (time, talent, treasure)

  8. Distribute the homework assignment Show Me the Money! (homework). Go over the directions for spending the inheritance from Aunt Gertrude.

  9. We know that people are philanthropic to help society, make things better and other reasons. Ask the learners, "How did we come up with the idea of forming organizations to help or volunteer?" Explain that "giving" is a part of our country’s history. Review the Learning to Give timeline, noting organizations or groups that were created to help the common good. Ask learners to evaluate which organizations were most important in their eyes starting with 1775 and ending in 1900. On the chalkboard or overhead, invite the learners to create a new timeline featuring some of the recent medical/scientific breakthroughs they researched.


The research assignment and homework essay may serve as an assessment of learning.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Explain the role of philanthropy in major themes and social issues in the nation's history.