Defining Philanthropy


To develop a working understanding of the definition of philanthropy.

Author: Urban EdVenture Faculty

PrintUp to 50 minutes

Students will:

  • Use the Greek roots philos and anthropos to construct a basic definition of philanthropy.
  • Examine the similarities of existing examples of philanthropy to construct a more complete definition of their own.
  • Examine textbook definitions of philanthopy to compare with their own work. 
  • Internet-connected devices to conduct research online or dictionaries containing Greek roots of words – one per pair of students,
  • Whiteboard (or other display device such as a smart board or flip chart paper).
Teacher Preparation 

Create a list of your students, divided into working pairs.

Pick the definitions of philanthropy you want to use for comparison.  I like:

  • “Voluntary action for the public good.” - Payton, Robert L., and Moody, Michael P. Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.
  • “Altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.” Retrieved on December 7, 2015 at
  • “Giving of one’s time, talent, or treasure for the benefit of the community.” Urban EdVenture class, 2012.



In a written reflection, students answer the following questions: How does our classroom definition fit with the idea reflected by the Greek roots of philanthropy? In what way is philanthropy “loving mankind”?

A Word About Reflection: A teacher should gauge what he or she feels will work best for reflection: a whole class discussion, asking for volunteers to share after completing a reflection, or keeping written reflections private. The type of reflection a teacher asks students to do can depend on several factors, including the time left after other activities are completed, the tone of the class, how personal the reflection topic may be, and how strong the class bond is.  

  • Payton, Robert L. and Moody, Michael P. "Voluntary Action For The Public Good.” Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission, chapter 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.
  • Stormboard online whiteboard tool. Available at


  1. Write or display “philanthropy” on the board and ask the students to identify words they know that contain roots that they see in the word philanthropy. Make a two-column list of the words they generate (taking no longer than three minutes). For example, they may mention Philadephia and anthropomorphism. 

  2. Place students in their designated working pairs. Have “Partner A” look up the Greek root philos and “Partner B” look up the Greek root anthrop. Then ask students to work together to use the two roots and their prior knowledge to write out the definition for philanthropy based on these roots.

  3. Ask students to share their definitions with the class; I have my students use the online tool Stormboard for their sharing. Examine the definitions for commonalities and construct a classroom definition from the examples provided.

  4. Consider showing this clip from Salvatore Alaimo's film "What is Philanthropy?" 

  5. Together, ask students to consider the classroom definition next to the comparison definition you had chosen during your preparation for this lesson. Ask the students to decide on the definition of philanthropy they will use for this course.

  6. Ask students to do the reflection and share thoughts from their reflection with the class.