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What is Philanthropy For? (2023 BOOK)

Philanthropy, the use of private assets for public good, has been much criticised in recent years. Do elite philanthropists wield too much power? Is big-money philanthropy unaccountable and therefore anti-democratic? And what about so-called “tainted donations” and “dark money” funding pseudo-philanthropic political projects? The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many of these criticisms, leading some to conclude that philanthropy needs to be fundamentally reshaped if it is to play a positive role in our future.

Drawing on deep knowledge of the past and present landscape of philanthropy, this book explains why it’s important to ask what philanthropy is for, because it has for centuries played a major role in shaping our world. Considering the alternatives, including charity, justice, taxation, the state, democracy and the market, the book examines the pressing questions that philanthropy must tackle if it is to be equal to the challenges of the 21st century.


Learn from our past to better understand our future.

Philanthropy has a long and varied history. We’ve created bite-size chapters that you can jump in and out of to better understand philanthropy.