Defining Philanthropy


Using different approaches, the group develops a working understanding of the definition of philanthropy.

Author: Urban EdVenture Faculty

PrintUp to 50 minutes

The learners will:

  • combine the Greek roots philos and anthropos to construct a basic definition of philanthropy.
  • examine the examples of philanthropy to construct a more complete definition of their own.
  • compare textbook definitions of philanthopy to their own work. 
Teacher Preparation 

Assign youth into working pairs.

Choose one of these definitions of philanthropy for the group to compare to their own:

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

A Word About Reflection: Reflection may take different forms: a whole class discussion, asking for volunteers to share after completing a reflection, or keeping written reflections private. The type of reflection 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.


  1. Display the word “philanthropy” on the board and ask participants to identify words they know that contain roots that they see in the word philanthropy. Make a two-column list (1 - philo and 2 - anthrop) of the words they generate (taking no longer than three minutes). For example, they may mention Philadephia and anthropomorphism. 

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

  3. Ask pairs to share their definitions with the whole group. You may have them use the online tool Stormboard for their sharing. Examine the definitions together 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. Display the definition you had chosen during your preparation for this lesson. Ask them to decide on the working definition of philanthropy they will use for this course.

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