If you’ve enjoyed a visit to Central Park within the last 40 years, you can thank Richard Gilder, the New York City philanthropist who died at age 87 last week.
An orphaned child of slaves, who grew up to be a business tycoon and generous donor—the first female self-made millionaire in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records—is a good subject for a Netflix series.
American medical charity has a noble history that extends right to our present moment
"Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."
"As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do."
"One of the great movements in my lifetime among educated people is the need to commit themselves to action. Most people are not satisfied with giving money; we also feel we need to work."
"Charity begins at home but should not end there."
"Don’t just think, do."
"The best philanthropy is constantly in search of the finalities—a search for a cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source."
"The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve."
"Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant."
–Robert Louis Stevenson
"It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us…. This is where our love for each other must start."
"A man of humanity is one who...desiring attainment for himself, helps others to attain."
"Life’s persistent and most urgent question is “What are you doing for others?”"
–Martin Luther King Jr.
"Remember, you don't live in a world all your own."
"A certain amount of corporate philanthropy is simply good business and works for the long-term benefit of the investors."
"How about no income tax at all on people over 65? People would continue working, remain healthier, not be an economic and social drain on society. Then the elderly would also have more disposable income to help charitable activities."
"When wealth is centralized, the people are dispersed. When wealth is distributed, the people are brought together."
"What the poor need is not charity but capital, not caseworkers but co-workers. And what the rich need is a wise, honorable, and just way of divesting themselves of their overabundance."
–Millard and Linda Fuller
"The most useful and influential people in America are those who take the deepest interest in institutions that exist for the purpose of making the world better."
–Booker T. Washington
"I was fortunate to get a scholarship when I went to Lehigh University and Princeton…. Somebody was kind enough to spend their money to educate people that they would never get to know. That’s what I think philanthropy is about."
"It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved."
"Think of giving not only as a duty but as a privilege."
– John Rockefeller
"I absolutely believe in the power of tithing. My own experience is that the more I give away, the more that comes back. That is the way life works."
"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."
"No one has ever become poor by giving."
"The raising of extraordinarily large sums of money, given voluntarily and freely by millions of our fellow Americans, is a unique American tradition... Philanthropy, charity, giving voluntarily and freely... call it what you like, but it is truly a jewel of an American tradition."
– John Kennedy
"I was trained from the beginning to work, to save, and to give."
–John Rockefeller Jr.
"Every charitable act is a stepping stone toward heaven."
–Henry Ward Beecher
"It is more blessed to give than to receive."
"Charity is a supreme virtue, and the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. It is the virtue that unites men and inspires their noblest efforts."
"Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another."
"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad."
"It is in giving that we receive."
–Francis of Assisi
"That best portion of a good man’s life: His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love."
"The proper aim of giving is to put the recipients in a state where they no longer need our gifts."
–C. S. Lewis
"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Most people think that Americans are generous because we are rich. The truth is that we are rich, in significant part, because we are generous."
"No one need wait a single moment to improve the world."
"No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions—he had money as well."
"I wanted to give my children enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much they could do nothing."
"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."
"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give."
"I'm not doing my philanthropic work out of any kind of guilt. I'm doing it because I can afford to do it, and I believe in it."
"Donors represent a private version of the legislative process—a deliberative process that selects goals, sets values, and allocates resources.... an alternative vehicle for getting things done."
"Governments don't really like organizations which are outside their control. There is much talk today in the voluntary sector of a "compact" with the state. This could turn out to be the sort of compact which the oysters had with the Walrus and the Carpenter: it ends up with one party getting eaten by the other."
"It's better to tell your money where to go than to ask where it went."
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
"If you combine all the spectral rays into a single beam, you get white light; and if you combine all the virtues into a single beam you get charity."
"If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else."
"Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully."
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
"It is prodigious the quantity of good that may be done by one man, if he will make a business of it."
"Every man goes down to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away."
"The charitable give out the door and God puts it back through the window."
"Neither the individual nor the race is improved by almsgiving. The best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise."
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."
–Booker T. Washington
"The true friend of the people should see that they be not too poor, for extreme poverty lowers the character of the democracy."
"The world is moving so fast these days that the one who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it."
–Harry Emerson Fosdick
"I can testify that it is nearly always easier to make $1,000,000 honestly than to dispose of it wisely."
"Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you ever can."
"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."
"Some writers have so confounded society with government as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins."
"I believe the power to make money is a gift from God...to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind."
"The foundation is an instrument forged by citizens who transfer profit from the commercial sector and put it directly to work as risk capital for the general betterment of the society."
"There are only four things you can do with your money. You can give it to the government. You can spend it. You can give it to your kids to their detriment. My three sons understand this. I never want to deprive them of the wonderful feeling of making it on their own. I don't think you do your kids a favor by leaving them a lot of money, or letting them think they're working with a net. And the fourth thing you can do with your money is create something good with it. I think it's incumbent on everybody with any amount of funds at all to start thinking like that."
"You can give it to the government. You can spend it. You can give it to your kids to their detriment. My three sons understand this. I never want to deprive them of the wonderful feeling of making it on their own. I don't think you do your kids a favor by leaving them a lot of money, or letting them think they're working with a net. And the fourth thing you can do with your money is create something good with it. I think it's incumbent on everybody with any amount of funds at all to start thinking like that."
"It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich."
"It is a misconception that corporate or government support has ever provided the majority of arts funding. Each U.S. citizen pays about the cost of one postage stamp in taxes to support national arts. The real stars of arts giving are individual donors, who give more to arts than corporations and government entities combined."
"Any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
"The more government takes the place of associations, the more will individuals lose the idea of forming associations and need the government to come to their help. That is a vicious circle of cause and effect."
–Alexis de Tocqueville
"Different philanthropists have different views about what makes society better off. One of the things that I think is wonderful about the non-accountability of philanthropy is that it allows for multiple versions of what makes society better off. The U.S. is unique in supporting those multiple versions of the good."
"It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place."
"The best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful—the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept that something can't be done if it needs to be—into their philanthropy."
"Benevolence today has become altogether too huge an undertaking to be conducted otherwise than on business lines."
"Philanthropic leaders genially speak of complementing government, not competing with it—as if monopoly were good and competition destructive—thus unwittingly conspiring against the public interest."
"Never respect men merely for their riches, but rather for their philanthropy; we do not value the sun for its height, but for its use."
"To get the best long-term results the foundation should not only provide grants to help competent men do their best work, but should also seek to increase the supply of competent men."
–1949 Ford Foundation report
"My theme for philanthropy is the same approach I used with technology: to find a need and fill it."
"Men who leave their money to be distributed by others are pie-faced mutts. I want to see the action during my lifetime."
"If you want to feel proud of yourself, you've got to do things you can be proud of."
"To say or imply that the foundation exists only on the sufferance of government is to reason from the untenable notion that the citizen and all his institutions are creatures of the state, not the other way around."
"The political maturity of a country is measured by what citizens willingly do for themselves and one another."
"A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle."
"Let no one go hungry away. If any of the kind of people should be in want of corn, supply their necessities, provided it does not encourage them in idleness."
"God sends us the poor to try us.... And he that refuses them a little out of the great deal that God has given lays up poverty in store for his own posterity."
"In America, communities existed before governments. There were many groups of people with a common sense of purpose and a feeling of duty to one another before there were political institutions."
"A large part of altruism...is grounded upon the fact that it is uncomfortable to have unhappy people about one."
–H. L. Mencken
"Don't just think, do."
"Rich men are neither better nor worse than all other humans. They contribute to greatness or mediocrity, strength of character or weakness in exactly the same proportion as persons in all other walks of life do."
"Where charity keeps pace with gain, industry is blessed."
"We are the most individualistic country on the face of the earth...and yet this individualistic society is still one of the most communitarian and undoubtedly the most philanthropic on the face of the earth. How can the most individualistic of societies also be the most philanthropic? Because of another great American tradition: that every individual is worthy, and no one is trapped by their circumstance."
"Many people are alienated by faceless bureaucracy and what they see as an erosion of participatory democracy. Consequently, there has been a revival of interest in charitable service."
"Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness. The former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher."
"The man who dies rich dies disgraced."
"The spirit of community will be revived as we succeed in devising ways to reinvolve people in solving the perplexing problems they see about them, not just in talking about them, and certainly not in petitioning government to solve them."
"As the purse is emptied the heart is filled."
"Not what we give, but what we share, for the gift without the giver is bare."
–James Russell Lowell
"Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty."
–John Rockefeller Jr.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."
–J. R. R. Tolkien
"Earlier in this century, philanthropy often flowed from the wills of dead industrialists. In recent decades, it's as likely to have come from a very alive business leader."
"No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."
"Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills... Each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation."
"Your Giving Pledge has a loophole...permitting pledgees to simply name charities in their wills. Some billionaires hate giving large sums of money away while alive and instead set up family-controlled foundations to do it for them after death. And these foundations become, more often than not, bureaucracy-ridden sluggards."
–Robert Wilson replying to Bill Gates's invitation to sign the Giving Pledge
"Let him that hath done the good office conceal it; let him that received it disclose it."
"As the furnace purifies the silver, so does charity rid wealth of its dross."
"Leisure is time for doing something useful."
"When the crumbs are swept from our table, we think it generous to let the dogs eat them; as if that were charity which permits others to have what we cannot keep."
–Henry Ward Beecher
"Charity is the note that resolves the discord."
"A man there was, though some did count him mad, the more he cast away, the more he had."
"Nothing contributes more to make men polite and civilized, than true and genuine charity."
"Charity is a universal remedy against discord, and a holy cement for mankind."
"Community is a consequence. It results when people come together to accomplish things that are important to them and succeed. People who are uninvolved cannot feel this connection."
"I have always believed that most large fortunes are made by men...who tumbled into a lucky opportunity. Hard work and attention to business are necessary, but they rarely result in achieving a large fortune. Do not be fooled into believing that because a man is rich, he is necessarily smart. There is ample proof to the contrary."
"It is calculated that a certain amount of revenue is lost to the government because a private college is tax exempt. The logic is that all of society's wealth really belongs to the government and that the government should therefore be able to determine how wealth exempted from taxation should be used. This implication is incipiently totalitarian."
–Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus
"Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it."
"Gain all you can without harm to mind or body, your own or your neighbor's, by honest industry and by common sense. Save all you can to keep yourself, as well as your children from prodigal desires.... And, finally, as God placed you here not as a proprietor, but a steward, give all you can."
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
"A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog."
"Men have committed murder for jealousy's sake, and anger's sake, and hatred's sake, and selfishness' sake, and spiritual pride's sake; but no man that ever I heard of ever committed a diabolical murder for sweet charity's sake."
"When we do any good to others, we do as much, or more, good to ourselves."
"When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them...concentrate on your family and getting rich (which I found very hard work). Don't forget that those who don't make money never become philanthropists."
"The value of a man resides in what he gives."
"Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distresses of every one, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse. It is not every one who asks that deserves charity; all, however, are worthy of the inquiry, or the deserving may suffer."
"In the modern era, government has been seen as society's problem-solving agency, the place people go to address every conceivable need. This assumption of government omnipotence has profoundly influenced the evolution of philanthropy. The principal function of a philanthropic group becomes interesting government in carrying out its goal, rather than being a problem-solving institution in its own right."
"To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter."
"The highest use of capital is to make money do more for the betterment of life."
"If you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing—by far—is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children."
"As I give, I get."
–Mary McLeod Bethune
"Do not give, as many rich men do, like a hen that lays her egg and then cackles."
–Henry Ward Beecher
"The ultimate achievement is how you feel about yourself. And giving your wealth away to have an impact for good does help with that."
"I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution."
"Charity is the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. It is the virtue that unites men and inspires their noblest efforts."
"Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."
"Speeches by businessmen on social responsibility...may gain them kudos in the short run. But it helps to strengthen the already too prevalent view that the pursuit of profits is wicked.... There is one and only one social responsibility of business-to...engage in open and free competition without deception or fraud."
"You take nothing with you that you gained—only what you gave away."
–Francis of Assisi
"I particularly dislike people saying, "I'm going to leave it in my will." What they're really saying is, "If I could live forever, I wouldn't give any of it away.""
–Jon Huntsman Sr.
"The best recreation is to do good."
"We must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities.... We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own...always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body."
–John Winthrop at the founding of the Massachusetts Colony
"Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others."
"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. "
"There's no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and working with the people who can make a difference. They get the benefit of your participation and you gain a direct understanding of the real problems and potential solutions, which makes you a more informed giver. "
"The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. "
"For scientific researchers, charitable donations are enormous engines of new opportunities, of starting in directions that wouldn't have been possible to fund by conventional sources."
"Help your brother's boat across, and your own will reach the shore."
"Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner."
"I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living.... Interventions have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed."
"There are eight levels of charity.... The highest is when you strengthen a man's hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others."
"If life happens to bless you with talent or treasure, you have a responsibility to use those gifts as well and as wisely as you possibly can."
–Bill and Melinda Gates
"Historically, Americans did not raise funds by appealing to donors' guilt, or by urging them to "give back" to society. Instead, they appealed to their fellow citizens' ideals and aspirations, their religious principles, and their desire to create."
"Philanthropists enjoy the freedom to experiment and take risks—risks that business and government entities cannot, or will not, accept. In this way, philanthropy has served as society's "risk capital.""
–Tom Tierney and Joel Fleishman
"At the head of any new undertaking where in France you would find the government, or in England some great lord, in the United States you are sure to find an association."
–Alexis de Tocqueville
"If your aims as a donor are modest, you can accomplish an awful lot. When your aims become elevated beyond a reasonable level, you not only don't accomplish much, but you can cause a great deal of damage."
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
"A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses. If you are generous, you will gain everything."
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again."
"The best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it."
"When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.... Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
"What I did was help myself by learning to help others. You only keep what you have by giving it away."
"Show me a person who never made a mistake, and I will show you a person who never did anything."
"If you would help another man, you must do so in minute particulars."
"I feel called to help individuals, to love each human being. I never think in terms of crowds in general but in terms of persons. Were I to think about crowds, I would never begin anything."
In this section you’ll find charts and graphs laying out the most important numbers in American philanthropy. They document how much we give, how that has changed over time, what areas we give to, and what mechanisms we use to donate.
Comparatively little polling has been conducted on big questions at the heart of voluntary giving. So in 2015 The Philanthropy Roundtable commissioned a survey of 1,000 American likely voters over age 18.
This timeline cumulates close to a thousand significant philanthropic events that have taken place in the U.S. throughout our history. It starts more than a century before the country’s birth and runs up to 2015. Laying donor achievements next to each other in this way allows readers to see how activities in different fields overlap.
From Alaskan bush villages to center-city Manhattan, local-scale philanthropy unfolds every day in nearly all American communities. At first glance this modest, unsplashy, omnipresent giving may seem mundane. Yet such microphilanthropy leaves deep imprints in almost every corner of American life, due to its sheer density and the intimate ways in which it is delivered.
Periodically, some politician seeking increased government revenues will propose to chop down the tax deduction for charitable contributions. Were this to happen, U.S. charities would lose billions of dollars. We as American citizens, however, stand to lose much more than that if the tax protections long afforded to charitable giving were to be withdrawn