Are philanthropists rich?

April 10, 2023

Can you be a philanthropist—even if you’re not a millionaire?

Quick disclaimer: In my last blog I said this one was going to be about planned giving and how Mosaic treats it as a piece in our clients’ financial picture. I will get there, but I am going to meander a bit through my thoughts on the topic of philanthropy over the last month. 

I recently heard something astonishing: 

74% of millennials consider themselves philanthropists. 

A speaker on a webinar by Fidelity Charitable posed the question, “Do you consider yourself a philanthropist?” 74% of millennials responded yes.  

I was shocked, because when most of us hear the word “philanthropist,” we think about someone with tons of money who wants to put their name on a building. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the funds to have a gym named after me yet. 

So perhaps there is a new definition. 

If 74% of millennials are considering themselves philanthropists, how are they defining philanthropy? 

Are philanthropists even rich?

My daughter Katherine gets a word each week from her teacher and they have to find out what the root of the word is. Is it Latin or Greek? We both have been finding this process fascinating. Where did the word originate, what does it mean, who came up with it, when, and why? So, I started researching the word “philanthropy”. Philanthropy comes from the Greek word, philanthropos. Breaking it down “philos” means loving by benefiting or caring for. “Anthropos” means human beings.  

In the original Greek, then, philanthropy means “Love of Humanity.” 

I continued down the researching internet hole. Turns out, we got our modern-day tax-exemption status idea for charities from the Greeks. Greek emperors used the word “philanthropy” as a way to give tax exemptions to charities such as hospitals, orphanages, and schools.  

Side note: Save this for your dinner party. In our family, we say: “Fun fact: did you know?” This is my absolute favorite conversation starter. 

If we take a more modern-day approach to philanthropy, we could probably agree that a philanthropist is anyone giving time, talent, or treasure.  

Let’s take it one step further: If you reference back to last month’s blog where I talked about ways we give, then we can better understand some of the motivating factors behind this new philanthropist mentality:  

  1. I can make a difference: We each have unique gifts, education, and interests—and I can use them to make an impact. 
  2. I have a responsibility: To whom much is given, much will be required. Luke 12:28 
  3. It allows me to put action to my values: I can bring my ideas to start solving problems in a tangible way.  

One of the most interesting things about a modern-day approach to philanthropy is that it doesn’t require you to be a millionaire. Millennials in their 30s and 40s, even Gen Z—really, anybody who has a heart to help–can find ways to give. A great example of this is planned giving, which I promised to come back to at the beginning of this blog.  

What is planned giving? My basic definition is any gift given to a charity that is not cash. It takes some planning and thought. Some can be complicated, like charitable trusts, and some not so complex, tax-saving strategies, like donating appreciated stocks. Other planned gifts can be given in your lifetime, or they can be designed to give at death. Just think of it as another possible way to give to charities and support causes you’re passionate about.  

Here are 3 ways the average person could make a planned gift:  

  • Naming a charity in your trust to receive a portion of your estate at death: this is called a Bequest. 
  • Opening a Donor Advised Fund: there are many options for this and minimums to open can be small depending on the Foundation (Please reach out to get more information, they are a great tool in creating family conversations about giving to charities.) They can be funded with various types of assets. 
  • Naming a charity as a beneficiary on your retirement account/s. Yes 401k, IRA, etc., can be one of many beneficiaries.  

Thanks for traveling down this philanthropy road with me. I see giving as another piece of our financial picture, and it will look different for everyone. Having been in the philanthropy and planned giving world for most of my career, I continue to be inspired and encouraged by this piece of the mosaic. Recently, I joined the board of The Planned Giving Forum of Greater Sacramento. I have been meeting planned giving officers from various nonprofits along with attorneys who are a delightful wealth of knowledge.  

Please reach out with any questions or to chat about ways you can cultivate your inner philanthropist. 


The opinions expressed herein are those of Anna Nelson and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to sell any product. Forward-looking statements cannot be guaranteed. This document may contain certain information that constitutes “forward-looking statements” which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “may,” “expect,” “will,” “hope,” “forecast,” “intend,” “target,” “believe,” and/or comparable terminology. No assurance, representation, or warranty is made by any person that any of Anna Nelson’s assumptions, expectations, objectives, and/or goals will be achieved. Nothing contained in this document may be relied upon as a guarantee, promise, assurance, or representation as to the future. Anna Nelson is an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training.