Philanthropy and Activism – Is there an overlap?

By October 1, 2018Grant management
Philanthropy vs activism

Philanthropy is defined as the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

Whereas, Activism is said to be the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

People get these two words mixed up fairly often, or sometimes using them both when really only one applies. From these definitions, they sound very different and yet they both have good causes at heart with the idea to bring about change. That’s why we decided to explore their overlaps – if there are any – and to see how people can combine these two nouns into a force to be reckoned with.


When you think of philanthropist, your first thought may be of the rich and famous; Bill Gates, Bono, Angelina Jolie, and Beyouncé. There is always an aspect of wealth that ties in with philanthropy. But, why is that?

A quote from Patrick Rooney, the executive director of the Centre on Philanthropy in Indiana University, sums this up quite well “It would be naive to think that nobody cares about the attention because otherwise there wouldn’t be any names on buildings.”

People have always wanted recognition for their generous giving, and why shouldn’t they? They have given this money for a great cause and should be shown some gratitude. However, the people who give more are more likely to have a hospital wing named after them, or get their latest philanthropic donations commented about in the newspaper.

Where philanthropy fails, is the giving of their time. Philanthropy is defined as the giving of money, therefore anyone with money can donate it to a cause. After they have given their money, their job is done…theoretically.

To become a good philanthropist it’s more than just donating your money. It’s about doing research into the cause and charities to find out which one is offering the best solution. The researched carried out will help to allocate the philanthropist money into something that is actually working. Meaning that they can walk away afterward with their head held high!

For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has just taken part in his first philanthropic activity. Bezos has donated a massive $2 billion to set up his own foundation concentrating on helping the homeless and building preschools. This sounds great, however, compared to his wealth this is a surprising small donation from the richest man in the world. Bezos has received an equal amount of praise for his donation as well as negative feedback. So, why did Bezos start small with his donations?

Jeff Bezos explained that his reasoning for this ‘small’ donation was because he didn’t want to do it right. He doesn’t want to donate his money and it to not have an effect, therefore he is starting small and making sure that is a success before investing more.

Researching and having a strategy are the most important things to do to become a successful philanthropist. This means that you can be great at philanthropy without having loads of money or being famous. You just have to invest your money in the right things.


Activism is much more about dedicating your life to a cause. This is the mixture of some money but mainly a lot of time and effort. Activists try to bring about change, whether through peaceful protest such as the walkouts held all across America after the Sante Fe school shooting, or by breaking the law, such as the LGBT members who ‘invaded’ the BBC studios as it was going live in the UK after the Section 28 law was put in place.

Smaller versions of activism exist too. Such as defending what is right on a day to day basis, setting up an alternative radio, or door-to-door canvassing. These, both big and small,  were not actions that required a lot of money and are also not events that an individual got recognition for. Yet, they brought recognition to the causes and put in place a motion for change.

“Activism has played a major role in ending slavery, challenging dictatorships, protecting workers from exploitation, protecting the environment, promoting equality for women, opposing racism, and many other important issues. Activism can also be used for aims such as attacking minorities or promoting war” (quote from an article here).

Activism has played a huge part in the way the world has developed and has brought about change throughout history. Yet there are very few activists who we are taught about as children, with the exception of great leaders such as Martin Luther King.

Coming together

As you can see, the main thing these two actions have in common is making a change and investing something – time or money. Here at Optimy, we think that philanthropist and activist could join forces, to create something incredible!

A lot of the time activists do not have the money to partake in events or stand up for issues that they would want to, but with the help of wealthy philanthropist, this could end.

If active activists have a cause that they are trying to change they could reach out to philanthropist for donations to help them on their way. And vice versa! For philanthropists who want their money to be used successfully, researching and finding an activist who is using their time for a cause that matches with their own ethos, donating money to them to help them raise their voice.

It is unfortunate that these two surprisingly similar actions do not join together more often. Political campaigns perhaps being the only expectation. With the use of the Optimy tool foundations and grant seekers can easily find each other. It gives foundations the ability to find the best people fighting for the causes they believe in and do something to help them. If this sounds like something you need, you can start your free trial today, just click here!

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