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Philanthropy has a rich history. The origin of the word reflects this historical richness, the word, and concept deriving from the Ancient Greeks. Philanthropy is a compound, from the word Filos, meaning loving, and Anthros, meaning mankind.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, as the medieval world was fading, politics and religion began to realign as well. Within towns and cities new social order formed in Europe as a product of the Reformation, and Catholicism began to unravel its monopoly over institutions. Simultaneously, the Ottoman Empire prospered, while powerful dynasties ruled Japan and China.

This institutional, political, and religious movements profoundly affected the development of modern philanthropy and resulted in a shift of giving to the state, when it had previously been religious orders. It also endorsed the global exchange of philanthropic concepts.

During the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution, between 1750-1890, philanthropy evolved in tandem with the changing needs of nations. War created a higher rate of widows, refugees, and orphans, and industrialization during this period emphasized issues of workers’ rights and poor working conditions.

The combination of these tumultuous conditions challenged the previous concept of philanthropy and emphasized the very core of using philanthropic systems to improve the quality of human life. This resulted in a dual-pronged system of philanthropy, one side focusing on private efforts of reform, the other emphasizing public responsibility.

During the late 1800s, all the way until 1930, an elite class of philanthropists and activists began to dominate the philanthropic scene, such as Andrew Carnegie.  He wrote a book, titled the Gospel of Wealth, which encouraged older millionaires to distribute their wealth to the public good into areas such as education, culture, science, and public health. The theories of such elite class philanthropists had an impact not just on national philanthropy, but on the international conception and theoretical understanding of philanthropy, resulting in it profoundly shaping practices in other cultures.

Philanthropy continued to evolve in response to major events in the 20th century, the sun as the growth of new nation-states and economic decline. These factors increased government involvement in social welfare and redefined the position of private philanthropy in relation to the state. During World War II, philanthropies focused on the outpouring of support for soldiers in terms of materials, money, and service, and encouraged the majority of philanthropies to professionalize.

Following this, civil and human rights movements grew in momentum, and philanthropic organizations increased in support for minority causes, a trend which still continues today.

Today, the current conditions of philanthropy are defined as being more organized, professional, and global. They span numerous fields and disciplines, and ranges of geographic regions both nationally and internationally. Technology, as well, majorly informs the current conditions of philanthropies, and which ones are able to prosper and lend the most help to their causes. Throughout this deep history, the central purpose and root of philanthropy have held steady—to help humankind.