In Ancient Greek the work philanthropy means to love mankind (from phil love and anthropos mankind). In the 1600s Sir Francis Bacon declared it a synonym with “goodness”. It was American lexicographer, Noah Webster (he of the dictionary) who gave philanthropy its modern and common definition – the giving of money and time to for the wellbeing of others.

The semantics of the word aside, philanthropy these days is serious business. While some may dream of their names emblazoned across hospital wings and university halls and others have access to a never ending pot of billionaire goodwill with which to fund global initiatives there is another group of younger, dynamic and tech savvy philanthropists on the rise. And those looking for good works would do well to take note of them.
Gone are the days of gentlemen’s clubs and lunching ladies deciding what’s good for the poor. Now is the time of the conscious philanthropist. These are people who have made their money early and are looking to engage with giving on a more personal level. No longer willing to just sign a cheque and attend a gala these people run their giving like they run their businesses; they talk about outcomes, due diligence, accountability and excellence in delivery. They are talking about social return on investment or SROI.
These concepts in philanthropy took off in the dot com boom when a new generation of successful business people earned huge wealth in a short space of time. Wondering what came next many of them saw an opportunity to make significant social change, taking their entrepreneurial expertise into a new sector. Then came the burst bubble and the crisis. While some new foundations fell by the wayside others metamorphosed into stronger and more knowledgeable organisations.
A notable leader in the field is the Omidyar Network created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The main philosophy of the Omidyar Network is that “business can be a powerful force for good”. People lack opportunity, not capability, and the Network intends to provide that opportunity through its various projects. And its not just throwing money at a problem, these new über-givers are also providing their business expertise, connections and most importantly, their time.
The renowned financier Chris Hohn and his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn set up a hedge fund exclusively to raise money for their organisation – the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. This power couple wanted to start seeing a correlation to the money earned in the finance sector and the money spent on social investment, they thought that people should be doing more than just writing cheques. Their Foundation looks at root causes and solutions to issues affecting children around the world.
As anyone in business will tell you information is power. With this in mind services such as GuideStar have developed in-depth analysis of the non-profit sector to provide as much guidance and information as possible for potential and current investors. Taking it a step further is NPC who matches up new donors with various organisations by offering research, grant-making, strategic advice and bespoke donor portfolios – a bit like your financial advisor but with a warm fuzzy feeling.
And in case you’re thinking, “this all sounds great but I just want to retire” there are myriad other ways you can be involved without leaving your house. Taking things right back to grass roots is KIVA. A website designed to bring lenders and borrowers together. Based on an entrepreneurial model, KIVA borrowers have their profiles and stories posted on the website. Reading through the borrower profiles presents a million stories of hardship and determination and a million more of success and wellbeing. Donors can pick and choose and start with an investment of as little as $25. You can keep track of the borrowers progress and when the money is paid back you can continue to lend or withdraw. Helping someone out and making a direct impact doesn’t get easier than that.
These days it is becoming easier to follow those wise and optimistic words of Anne Frank “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.” Wonderful, indeed.