Philanthropy has several, related meanings. In the broadest sense it is action for the love (or good) of humankind. In a more narrow, instrumental sense, it can also refer to charitable foundations and fundraising both of which are summed up with the phrase "private action for the public good".
Philanthropy in Ancient Greece
Philanthropy in all of its various meanings and manifestations was an important component of medieval European culture, religion and economy.
One of the controversial characteristics of modern philanthropy is what might be termed perpetual philanthropy; practices which emphasize foundations giving only a limited percentage of available funds in gifts, grants and bequests each year and establishing an investment department charged with "growing" the capital of the foundation. Thus, the Carnegie Corporation of New York grew from an original capital gift by Mr. Carnegie of less than $150 million U.S. dollars to a market value of nearly $2 billion early in the 21st century. In roughly the same time period, the Rockefeller Foundation grew from an original gift of 70,000 shares of Standard Oil, worth roughly $50 million, to a current value in excess of $4 billion.
Perpetual philanthropy is something approaching standard practice among U.S. financial foundations today. One of the major exceptions to this practice was the philanthropic practice of Julius Rosenwald, a wealthy Chicago, Illinois businessman who established his foundation in a manner that gave away all of its funds in a limited period of time and went out of existence.
Modern Philanthropists (Swedish)
In his will of 1895, the Swedish businessman, inventor, scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel left "all of his remaining realizable asset" to fund the creation of five international awards: the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Medicine, Peace and Physics. In 1968, Sweden's central bank funded a sixth Nobel Prize in Economics.
Modern Philanthropists (U.S.)
One of the most powerful and paradoxical voices in modern philanthropy is Andrew Carnegie.
Henry Clay Frick
Bill and Melinda Gates
Laurene Powell Jobs
The widow of Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple Inc., Ms. Powell Jobs manages the Steve Jobs Trust and has established a distinctive record of philanthropy.
In the wake of the example set by John D. Rockefeller Jr. ("Junior" to friends, family and associates), numerous members of the extended Rockefeller family have made important contributions to the world of philanthropy. For example, his five sons, John, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David, founded the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 1940. The original Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913 by John D. Rockefeller, Senior at the encouragement of his son, Junior and their associate Frederick Taylor Gates. It is one of the oldest major financial foundations in the U.S., after the Carnegie Corporation, founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 and the Russell Sage Foundation founded by Mr. Sage's widow, Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907.
Margaret Olivia Sage
The widow of Russell Sage, who died in 1907, was at the time perhaps the wealthiest woman in the world. Despite her husband's well-known and publicized opposition to philanthropic activity, Ms. Sage donated funds for establishment of the Russell Sage Foundation and spent most of the rest of her life engaged in her own philanthropic activities.