Larry Lieberman
COO, Charity Navigator

What is a philanthropist?  
When I pose that question, what I really want to know, where do philanthropists come from? Storks may bring babies, but who delivers philanthropists?

For most of my life, I thought they came from rich grandparents. From families with names I recognized on the products in my home and the parks in my neighborhood – Kellogg, Ford, DuPont, Rockefeller. 

During college, I learned that people could actually earn enough money to become philanthropists—think Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, the Hewletts, the Packards.

Just a few years ago I realized how wrong I was.

Philanthropy is a state of mind that drives action. It doesn’t come from a gene pool, and it doesn’t come from a trust fund. Being a philanthropist does not require any minimum net worth or a six figure income. There is no minimum amount that must be given. Philanthropy requires compassion, empathy, and intent.

So now I ask, who is teaching empathy and how do we help cultivate it into responsible giving with intent?

There is no minimum amount that must be given to become a philanthropist. Philanthropy requires compassion, empathy, and intent.

Every year, more than 10 million Americans visit Charity Navigator to get objective information about the charitable sector. For many, a visit to our site will be their very first experience learning about giving.

Charity Navigator assists these new philanthropists by providing rigorous and trustworthy analysis of projects and organizations. We rate organizations based on their financial efficiency and capacity, as well as their accountability and transparency to the general public. So, when we saw an overlap between 34 of our highly-rated nonprofits and 100&Change submissions that received the highest scores from MacArthur’s evaluation panel, we saw an opportunity to help both worthy projects and new donors. 

We are encouraging people to take action, to engage their sense of empathy, and showcase innovation in the charitable sector. Groundbreaking leaders in social change, including Margot Stiles of Oceana, are sharing some of their most innovative paths to relieving the pain and suffering among us. Their work is driven by data, by science, and by their will to improve the planet while also raising the quality of life for people everywhere.

Oceana is the largest international group focused solely on ocean conservation; their scientists lead teams of economists, lawyers, and advocates focus on returning the oceans to previous states of abundance while also providing an affordable and healthy meal every day in perpetuity for 1 billion people. Discover Oceana and learn the connection between conserving species and relieving world hunger.

Will any one of our users rival the philanthropic powerhouses that John and Catherine MacArthur became? Probably not. But collectively, new donors are among the world’s greatest philanthropists. I like to believe that one day, when we are reading about a visionary recipient of MacArthur’s 100&Change grant, we will learn that the winner had their first philanthropic experience on a site like Charity Navigator.  

Today when I ask, “Where do philanthropists come from?”, I understand that they come from families, and schools, and houses of worship, and businesses that are teaching empathy. And they come from websites that are teaching the next generation to have goals for their giving and to seek out accountability and transparency from the organizations they support.

And when I am asked, “What makes a philanthropist?”, that’s easy, too. A new philanthropist is made the first time anyone—regardless of their income or ancestry—donates to an organization that they have researched and whose work touches their heart.