Philanthropy is the charitable act of improving the human condition by eliminating social problems that cause suffering. Because such generosity and altruism often embrace unpopular or controversial efforts that do not gain the public or government’s support, philanthropy involves purely virtuous actions. The goals of philanthropy are accomplished through scientific research and projects such as the construction of museums and libraries that will increase people’s intellectual growth and well-being. The personal improvement of people who visit these museums and libraries will help prevent and solve social problems. While charitable organizations’ efforts are to eliminate the suffering of social issues, philanthropy focuses on eliminating the social issues themselves. For instance, providing food to a person in need is a charitable act. Unfortunately, however, the person will again become hungry. Instructing the person how to grow food is a philanthropic act because it eliminates the social problem that causes the person’s hunger.
In his essay “Wealth,” later entitled “The Gospel of Wealth,” Andrew Carnegie argued that those who have a surplus of wealth can best benefit society if they do not waste money on extravagances, self-indulgence or irresponsible spending. Instead, they should appropriate their surplus funds throughout their lives toward reducing the gap between the rich and the poor. The wealthy should also wisely administer their riches and in a manner that benefits society the most and encourages “the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.” This secular philosophy of philanthropy gained popularity in 19th century America as it was not a religious duty but was, instead, a freely selected, independent way for people to individually improve their society in beneficial ways.
During this time of philanthropy, charity reformers became concerned that donating to the poor could make them totally dependent upon charity. Consequently, these reformers encouraged philanthropic institutions to solve social problems and instruct people on how to better themselves. These reforms helped to give accountability in philanthropy. In the 20th century, World War I and World War II and the Great Depression revived philanthropy because so many people were in desperate situations. President Roosevelt recognized the importance of coordination and efficiency in philanthropy, so he organized the President’s War Relief Control Board. This creation of a bureau for philanthropy extended after World War II.