On April 26, National Philanthropic Trust, a public charity dedicated to providing philanthropic expertise to donors, foundations and financial institutions, launched a website on the History of Modern Philanthropy. The interactive website allows users to explore how charitable giving has evolved across the world from the sixteenth century to the present. In addition to describing key moments in the history of philanthropy—such as the passage of the Statute of Charitable Uses in Elizabethan England, the chartering of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913, or the creation of the first donor-advised fund by the New York Community Trust in 1931—the site offers links to historic documents, including prints, maps, paintings, and speeches.
If, as the late historian William H. McNeill once wrote, historical knowledge “can both make us wiser in our public choices and more richly human in our private lives,” it is perhaps not surprising that members of the philanthropic community increasingly turn to history to understand the origins of, and ultimately imagine the future of, philanthropy. Individual and institutional philanthropists, as well as others who are simply curious about the long history of charity, now have a vibrant new resource to help them explore the subject.