A philanthropist is someone who participates in activities that benefit people and society. These activities can range from establishing a charitable organization that conducts disease research and searches for new treatment and prevention techniques to donating to a college endowment that is used to provide scholarships. While wealthy people are often associated with philanthropy because they have more resources to donate, people of all social and economic classes can participate in philanthropy, and several religions specifically mandate that their followers engage in charity on a regular basis.
The term “philanthropist” literally means “lover of man,” and as the name suggests, philanthropists are generally altruistic in nature, rather than engaging in activities that benefit them directly while also benefiting others. Tax breaks, increased social status, and other benefits are frequently offered to philanthropists, but most claim altruism as their motivation, and some prefer to remain anonymous so that the focus is on the benefits provided rather than the person who provides them.
Philanthropists can support causes donating money, time, skills, and material goods. They frequently fill a void, providing benefits where none exist or sensing a weakness and assisting it. For example, a philanthropist in a city might notice that city services for the homeless are inadequate, and he or she might decide to open a homeless services center to provide more of a safety net while avoiding the entanglements that are often associated with government organizations.
Ballets, museums, and other cultural institutions rely heavily on charitable contributions to stay afloat, with philanthropists and charitable organizations pooling the resources of many donors funding ballets, museums, and other cultural institutions. A philanthropist may choose to contribute to such organizations rather than giving directly to causes, on the assumption that the organization’s board members are better equipped to determine how, where, and when the funds should be used.
Altruistic acts appear to generate feelings of satisfaction and reward in the brain, suggesting that humans are hardwired to engage in charitable activities and to help one another in times of need, according to several studies. This may be one reason why someone becomes a philanthropist, but wealthy people are also under a lot of social pressure to participate in charitable activities, and they may be chastised if they don’t contribute to various causes.