Philanthropic Impact & Insight: Philanthropy Is Our Heritage

In a world where everyone is “fundraising” for something (a cause, a vacation, a new business) it seems like philanthropy has become an integral part of society. Not only do we see millennials more active and engaged in the community, they tend to give back—to be philanthropic.

But this is not a new trend. In fact the United States was founded in philanthropy. Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop wrote in 1630 “the care of the public must over sway all private respects…estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public.”

Clair Guadiani points out in her book The Greater Good how early American settlers of wealth sponsored the education of farmers sons for the good of the community—creating our first colleges. These philanthropist shaped the economic and cultural development of this country.

Philanthropy is our heritage. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Astor, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Gates, Joan Kroc… These names are almost synonymous with philanthropy. They were not only business legends, they carved out and defined a practice of giving back to community.

Without philanthropy most of the museums, art institutions, libraries, hospitals and parks would simply disappear. Our community reflects the definition of philanthropy as “love for humanity.”

Today, we see a more democratized approach to philanthropy. Technology has opened the floodgates allowing anyone to be involved on every level, from the Gates Giving Pledge to the Ice Bucket Challenge. Crowdfunding makes global philanthropy possible in a way our forefathers couldn’t even dream about.

In a world of novice and expert fundraisers alike, US giving remains strong.
The World Giving Index for 2014 shows the United States and Myanmar are jointly the top countries in philanthropic contributions (by percentage). Which underscores the trend of giving beyond usual income and geographic boundaries.

Oliver Zunz’s book Philanthropy in America points out philanthropy has shaped social movements, influenced policy and addressed humanitarian need. It remains an integrated part of our social fabric.

Today more people than ever before are engaged in fundraising to help others. Philanthropy connects business, individuals and nonprofits together continuing our heritage of giving back for the greater good. And everyone in the community benefits from this culture of philanthropy.

Peter Zehren is vice president of communications for the AFP SEWI.

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