A History of Modern Philanthropy

By: Jerry W. Henry, Partner

I’ve always been a history buff.  But, a new website has piqued my interest in a way that combines my love of history and my interest in philanthropy.

A History of Modern Philanthropy, found at www.HistoryOfGiving.org, is an interactive website that takes a look at philanthropy since the 1500’s.  Organized by the National Philanthropic Trust, a team of research historians spent countless hours organizing images, document, video and audio clips to tell the story of modern philanthropy. It is a very detailed yet fascinating trek through five different periods of philanthropic history: 1500-1750, “New Meaning in a Changing World;” 1750-1890, “Upheaval & Reform;” 1890 to 1930, “Lasting Change;” 1930 to 1980, “Redefining Philanthropy;” and 1980 to the present, “Global Outlook of Giving.”

In my introductory talks on philanthropy, I often begin by parsing the root of the word itself based on its Greek origins: philo (general love, tending to, caring) and anthropos (humanity or humankind).  I explain that at its simplest, philanthropy is the “love of humankind.” It’s not just about money. And in that sense, when we truly make an effort to tend to and care for others, we are all philanthropists.

The new History of Modern Philanthropy can help us to see to breadth and depth of what is occurring worldwide in philanthropy.  I’ve not made my way through the entire website, but what I’ve viewed so far is interesting and enlightening.  Better yet, as you scroll through the various historical markers, you come to realize how philanthropy is growing while noting how interconnected we all are on this globe.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”  Perhaps your excursion through this new interactive website on philanthropy will help you understand where we’ve been and where we’re heading in this ever-changing world in which we live.