In order to truly understand the role and purpose of philanthropy today, it is necessary to trace it all the way back to its roots. Philanthropy has been a concept near and dear to humanity since the very beginning of civilization and organized society. We start this journey in Ancient Greece, where this word derives its roots. It comes from the two ancient words, Filos, which means love, and Anthropos, the ancient Greek root for humankind. Quite literally, it is the love for humankind. The very barebones root of this word both developed as years passed and society moved into the contemporary, but at the very core of it held the same concept and conceit.
The first recorded act of philanthropic donation occurred in 347 B.C.. Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who explored topics such as justice, equality, political philosophy, and more, designated in his will that the proceeds of his farm, after his death, would be used to support the students and faculty of the university he had founded. This, although it may not have been the first instance of philanthropic donation, is the earliest recorded example we have.
Following this, in 113 B.C. Pliny the Younger, an Ancient Roman magistrate, lawyer, and author, decided to fund the construction of a new school in Rome to help educate children. It is recorded that he said, “You cannot make your children a more handsome present than this, nor can you do your native place a better turn. Let those who are born here be brought up here, and from their earliest days accustom them to love and know every foot of their native soil.”
These acts by prominent social figures–both politicians, both writers, both great and remembered figures–undoubtedly set a social precedent within their own times and for times to come. They worked to incite a culture where wealth was not just for personal benefit; instead, wealth and the gathering of wealth could be used for the greater good of society and humankind.