What is philanthropy?

The word ‘philanthropy’ was coined by Greek playwright Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, meaning ‘love of humanity’. People have been giving ever since.

Glenn Earle, a former Partner and Chief Operating Officer at Goldman Sachs International and one of our donors, talks about why he likes the community foundation model.

Philanthropy has been practised in the UK for centuries, really for as long as people have wanted to share their wealth. When people think of philanthropists, they often think of the famous 18th and 19th century philanthropists such as Octavia Hill, John Ruskin, George Peabody and George Cadbury, all of whom saw a pressing need to improve housing conditions for working class people and set about using their wealth and influence to affect change.  In addition to the innovative social housing models set up by these Victorian social entrepreneurs, many of the ‘household name’ charities that are still very active today were set up at that time, such as RNLI, the Salvation Army and the NSPCC.

Post-war philanthropy

With the welfare state taking a greater role in providing state support for the sick, the vulnerable and those in need after the Second World War, many people felt that there would be less need for philanthropy and charitable giving.  In fact, there was an explosion in the development of the voluntary sector and there are now more than 163,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission with a combined income of over £60 billion*. Add to this the tens of thousands more smaller community groups, too small to be registered charities, and the picture is of an incredibly diverse and increasingly professional, lively and dynamic support network of community action across the UK.

“A selfish sort of giving”

As the 20th century came to a close, there is a new spirit of philanthropy with many richer citizens choosing to plan their giving to benefit the public good.  There are high-profile examples such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in the US and leading UK philanthropist  Dame Stephanie Shirley, who has given away over £67 million of her wealth. Many present-day philanthropists are innovative and entrepreneurial, looking for new ways to make their giving go further, create greater leverage and make a bigger impact on the causes they seek to support.  They work with organisations such as UK Community Foundations and the Government to build schemes, such as match-funding programmes like Grassroots and Community First, that encourage sustainable philanthropic giving.

The Philanthropy Fellowship

The Philanthropy Fellowship is a network of community philanthropists set up to inspire a greater culture of philanthropy in the UK. It has been set up in partnership with the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and UK Community Foundations.

UK Community Foundations is the umbrella organisation for UK community foundations. It quality accredits members to standards endorsed by the Charity Commission and offers advice and support. It also offers advice and support to donors and potential donors.


* Charity Commission, 30 Sept 2013.

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