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When Philanthropy Began In The United States And Why It Matters

In this new article, you will learn when philanthropy began in the United States, why it is crucial, and the most well-known philanthropists.

When did philanthropy begin in the United States?

The history of philanthropy in the United States is shaped by cultural influences such as religion, tradition, and societal beliefs.

As Philanthropy New York rightly explains, it was in the late 19th century when philanthropy began:

“It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the modern business of philanthropy began to form”.

The charity was a fragmented effort driven mainly by religious groups until then.

Handouts and volunteerism characterized it to help the underprivileged.

Is philanthropy an American concept?

Although there are different versions about the beginnings of philanthropy, a large part points to its origin in Ancient Greece.

Fidelity Charitable explains the origin of the word philanthropy:

“Greek playwright Aeschylus coined the term philanthropy in the 5th century BCE. It meant “love of humanity”.

Today, philanthropy means generosity in all its forms and is often defined as giving gifts of “time, talent and treasure” to help make life better for other people”.

The U.S. federal tax code incentivizes giving in a variety of ways.

Deductions are taken against income, capital gains and estate taxes for charitable contributions.

Thus, it could be said that American society has embraced philanthropy as part of its culture and tradition.

What is philanthropy in American history?

The history of philanthropy in the United States begins with charity, one of the principles present in religion.

In the American country, philanthropy is seen as an honor and obligation, as it is a way of maintaining balance.

Medal of Philanthropy explains on its website:

“Giving is part of America’s character, culture, and economy. It is an engine for ingenuity in the United States, and it is part of our nation’s social contract.”

Why is philanthropy in the United States essential to the country’s history?

Learning to Give exposes the importance of philanthropy in the United States to American society:

“Philanthropy has played a very important role in American society”.

This is because, thanks to the generosity of philanthropists, citizens directly benefit from:

  • Libraries;
  • Schools;
  • Hospitals;
  • Performing arts centers;
  • Museums. 

Learning to Give explains:

“Philanthropy may also support scientific research, scholarships, civil rights endeavors, social services and other things beneficial to society”.

In addition to investments in the United States, in 2020, the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) invested $29.9 million in Latin America.

Eleven grants were made to Ecuador, raising $4.3 million in investment.

The IAF made $98.5 million in grants to Latin America and $120.4 million from outside investments.

A total of 333 grants, or $218.8 million, were made.

IAF investment in Latin America Roberto Isaías

This represents a 36% growth in donations from the U.S. to Latin America.

One of the aspects of philanthropy that many companies in the world are currently carrying out is strategic philanthropy.

Philanthropy in the U.S.: the most important donations

As detailed by Philanthropy News Digest, the 50 most significant 2020 donations in the U.S. totaled $24.7 billion.

Forbes‘ list of the the most prominent philanthropists in recent decades specifies their 2018 giving:

  • Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.

$3400 million;

  • Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, creators of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

2.6 billion;

$767 million;

  • Walton family, founder of Walmart.

$596 million;

  • George Soros, hedge fund manager of Open Society Foundations.

$585 million;

  • Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chang, Facebook co-founder and physician.

$410 million;

  • Hansjoerg Wyss, medical device entrepreneur.

$402 million;

  • Jim and Marilyn Simons, former chair of Stony Brook University’s mathematics department and founder of Renaissance Technologies.

$397 million;

  • Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.

$392 million;

  • Gordon and Betty Moore, founders of Intel.

$298 million.

Thanks to the large donations made, many charities have been able to help causes such as investing in HIV cures, homelessness, and Katrina victims, among many others.

Largest US donors Roberto Isaías

The best-known philanthropists in U.S. history

Philanthropy in the United States is an activity deeply rooted in its tradition, there are many American philanthropic figures.

In 2012, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, and Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge project, which, as the Microsoft co-founder explains:

“This is about building on a wonderful tradition of philanthropy that will ultimately help the world become a much better place”.

This philanthropic foundation is an invitation to major billionaires and people of all income brackets to pledge to donate part of their wealth to philanthropy.

According to 2021 figures, it has 231 donors from 28 countries.

The age range is from 30 to 90 years old, mainly from the United States.

Investment of Giving Pledge donations Roberto Isaías

In Ecuador, the Isaías brothers created the Nahim Isaías Foundation, which is part of the history of philanthropy in the country.

Who is the most important American philanthropist in history?

Some of the most influential philanthropists in the United States are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or John D. Rockefeller.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) led the expansion of the steel industry, becoming one of the wealthiest Americans in history.

He devoted much of his life and his entire fortune to philanthropy in the United States.

He gave accessible public library buildings to Dunfermline, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.


Philanthropy in the United States has marked history and has been evolving, as has its culture.

By way of conclusion, it can be said that:

  • Philanthropy has significantly changed since its inception;
  • In the United States, it is deeply rooted in religion and tradition;
  • Some of the most prominent philanthropists in the United States are Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg.

Thanks to numerous non-profit organizations and philanthropists worldwide, large sums of charitable donations are made.

This fundraising can be used, for example, to help those affected by disasters or to support research.