Administered by:
University of Cambridge
Philanthropy has distinguishing characteristics separate from charity; not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa, though there is a recognized degree of overlap in practice. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem-the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.

In London prior to the 18th century, parochial and civic charities were typically established by bequests and operated by local church parishes (such as St Dionis Backchurch) or guilds (such as the Carpenters' Company). During the 18th century, however, "a more activist and explicitly Protestant tradition of direct charitable engagement during life" took hold, exemplified by the creation of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and Societies for the Reformation of Manners.

Philanthropists, such as anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, began to adopt active campaigning roles, where they would champion a cause and lobby the government for legislative change. This included organized campaigns against the ill treatment of animals and children and the campaign that succeeded in ending the slave trade throughout the Empire starting in 1807. Although there were no slaves allowed in Britain itself, many rich men owned sugar plantations in the West Indies, and resisted the movement to buy them out until it finally succeeded in 1833.

Led by the energetic Lord Shaftesbury (18011885), philanthropists organized themselves. In 1869 they set up the Charity Organisation Society. It was a federation of district committees, one in each of the 42 Poor Law divisions. Its central office had experts in coordination and guidance, thereby maximizing the impact of charitable giving to the poor. Many of the charities were designed to alleviate the harsh living conditions in the slums. such as the Labourer's Friend Society founded in 1830. This included the promotion of allotment of land to labourers for "cottage husbandry" that later became the allotment movement, and in 1844 it became the first Model Dwellings Companyan organization that sought to improve the housing conditions of the working classes by building new homes for them, while at the same time receiving a competitive rate of return on any investment. This was one of the first housing associations, a philanthropic endeavor that flourished in the second half of the nineteenth century, brought about by the growth of the middle class. Later associations included the Peabody Trust, and the Guinness Trust. The principle of philanthropic intention with capitalist return was given the label "five per cent philanthropy.

In France, the Pasteur Institute had a monopoly of specialized microbiological knowledge allowed it to raise money for serum production from both private and public sources, walking the line between a commercial pharmaceutical venture and a philanthropic enterprise.

When the war ended in late 1918, Hoover took control of the American Relief Administration (ARA), with the mission of food to Central and Eastern Europe. The ARA fed millions. U.S. government funding for the ARA expired in the summer of 1919, and Hoover transformed the ARA into a private organization, raising millions of dollars from private donors. Under the auspices of the ARA, the European Children's Fund fed millions of starving children. When attacked for distributing food to Russia, which was under Bolshevik control, Hoover snapped, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!

With the acquisition of most of the stock of the Ford Motor Company the late 1940s, the Ford Foundation became the largest American philanthropy, splitting its activities between the United States, and the rest of the world. Outside the United States, it established a network of human rights organizations, promoted democracy, gave large numbers of fellowships for young leaders to study in the United States, and invested heavily in the Green Revolution, whereby poor nations dramatically increased their output of rice, wheat and other foods. Both Ford and Rockefeller were heavily involved. Ford also gave heavily to build up research universities in Europe and worldwide. For example, in Italy in 1950 it sent a team to help the Italian ministry of education reform the nations school system, based on the principles of meritocracy" (rather than political or family patronage), democratisation (with universal access to secondary schools). It reached a compromise between the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, to help promote uniform treatment and equal outcomes. The success in Italy became a model for Ford programs and many other nations.