The United States has a long history of philanthropy dating back to its earliest days as a country. Over the past 100 years, since Andrew Carnegie dedicated the Carnegie Corporation to promoting “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding,” philanthropy has developed into a professional sector comprised of individual donors, foundations, corporate giving programs, public charities, and other types of charitable groups.
So what exactly does philanthropy do? The easy answer is that philanthropy is the awarding of grants to charitable causes. While this captures the facts, the soul of philanthropy is much more. Paul Ylvisaker, a legendary program officer with the Ford Foundation, once said “philanthropy is America’s passing gear.” By that he meant that philanthropy is the spark that leads to change on a level that is often transformational for society.
At WRAG, we focus primarily on institutional philanthropy – that is, philanthropy as it is practiced by foundations and corporate giving programs.
What is a foundation?
Foundations are nonprofit organizations, as defined by the IRS, that support the public good. Foundations are generally created through financial endowments donated by individuals, families, corporations, or other entities. With the funds generated by investing the endowments, foundations make grants or donations to nonprofit organizations or charitable causes. The IRS broadly categorizes foundations as either private or public foundations, and regulates them differently.
WRAG members include many different types of foundations, including independent, family, operating, corporate, and community foundations. For more information about different types of foundations, check out “Foundation Fundamentals” by the Foundation Center.
What is a corporate giving program?
Corporate giving programs, unlike corporate foundations, are not separate legal entities and are not governed by the same rules that apply to foundations. Corporate giving programs provide support to nonprofit organizations and charitable causes directly from company resources which may come in the form of cash grants or contributions, product donations, in-kind services, employee matching gifts, or employee volunteerism, just to name a few.
Often times, the charitable goals of a corporate giving programs are closely aligned to the corporation's business interests and are often are designed to benefit the communities where the company conducts business and where their employees live and work.
Resources about philanthropy in our region
- The Business of Philanthropy: On July 6, 2014, WRAG president Tamara Copeland, Northern Virginia Health Foundation's Patricia Mathews, and David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners appeared on ABC7's Washington Business Report to discuss the "business of philanthropy" here in the Greater Washington Region.
- The Daily WRAG: WRAG's blog features a daily roundup of news related to the Greater Washington region, local philanthropy, and nonprofit organizations.
- Our Region, Our Giving 2016: WRAG's annual analysis of philanthropy in the Greater Washington region.
- Philanthropy Factoids: A few years ago, we compiled a number of fun facts about the impact philanthropy has had on society.
- The Foundation Center: The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about foundations and philanthropy worldwide. They offer a wealth of information for grantseekers, grantmakers, and the general public, including their annual publication, Key Facts on U.S. Foundations.
- LearnPhilanthropy: A project of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy with resources and tools for those new to grantmaking.
- Jobs in Philanthropy: The Gates Foundation has a great compendium of resources for seeking career opportunities in nonprofits and foundations.
- News: The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly are two of the leading print and online sources of news about the nonprofit and philanthropic sector. And, of course, don't forget about our very own resource - The Daily WRAG.