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The Evolution of American Giving

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The Fourth of July is all about traditions, like hot dogs and fireworks. But did you realize there are also traditions of American philanthropy?

The earliest tradition that even the Puritans encouraged is Giving as Relief. At its most simple, it emphasizes compassion and seeks to alleviate human suffering. Think food pantries, or disaster response.

In the 19th century, a second tradition gained traction: Giving as Improvement. This stresses progress and seeks to maximize human potential. It can include funding education or job training [programs].

The 20th century saw the rise of a third tradition: Giving as Social Reform. These donors are motivated by [a principle of] justice and direct their dollars to try to solve social problems. Their priorities may include policy and legal reform.

More recently, a newer tradition of Philanthropy as Civic Engagement has emerged, emphasizing community building.

Each of these traditions is still prevalent, and they each have their merits. Which characterizes the way you choose to give?

Click here to learn more about the Four Traditions.

Based on "Towards a Fourth Philanthropic Response: American Philanthropy and its Public" by Susan Wisely and Elizabeth Lynn