We believe that philanthropy has historically had a major impact on society, and we want to learn from successful examples.
History of Philanthropy
We want to learn about philanthropy’s accomplishments to better understand what great giving looks like.
We believe that philanthropy often operates best on long time horizons, so we especially want to learn from role models whose impact took time to play out.
Aside from the Casebook for The Foundation: A Great American Secret, we’ve found surprisingly little existing literature on the history of philanthropy. In particular, we’ve found few in-depth case studies examining questions like what role philanthropists, compared with other actors, played in bringing important changes to pass.
To help fill that gap, we’ve been commissioning case studies on past philanthropic success stories, with a focus on cases that seem — at first glance — to be strong examples of philanthropy having a major impact on society.
Reviewing the history of philanthropy has contributed significantly to our picture of what great giving looks like. For example:
- It has made us more ambitious. We are more interested in working on daunting problems over long periods of time after learning about some of philanthropy’s past contributions. We’ve been particularly impressed by the track record of philanthropically funded science. (More on philanthropic success stories here.)
- We’ve learned about the surprisingly (to us) large number of cases where a funder led the creation of a successful new nonprofit, rather than funding someone else’s existing plan.
- We’ve learned about the different roles philanthropic funding can play in policy change, and in particular the possibility of creating change by helping a nascent field grow even when there’s no apparent political opportunity. (More)
History of Philanthropy, at a glance
9 case studies commissioned