What Is Philanthropy? And Are These Stars Engaged In It?

The first definition I found when trying to answer the question “What is philanthropy?” indicated that it was a noun meaning the “desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” The word has ancient Greek origins, meaning “the love of humanity, in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing, and enhancing what it means to be human.” In the more modern definitions, I see references to private initiatives for the public good, focusing on the quality of life.

For a person writing a regular blog on a website called Inside Philanthropy, researching the origins of the word may seem odd at this point in my career. What caused this tangent into the very foundation of my work?  My most recent post was about a recent Boston Globe article about the philanthropic work of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The article was not favorable, and I wrote a defense of the issue described therein and a “system” used by many other athletes and famous people doing philanthropic work with personal foundations. Often, the star is not the largest donor to his or her own foundation—it is funded by others—but the star sometimes takes the credit for the foundation’s charitable work.

The Boston Globe article was followed over the next few days by letters to the editor expressing disappointment with Mr. Brady’s “charitable” activities. To summarize, the issue is that while Brady has helped a charity known as Best Buddies raise $46.5 million since he became involved, Best Buddies has started to donate money to Brady’s “The Change The World Foundation Trust,” and expects to have donated $3.25 million cumulatively by the end of 2017.

It is unclear how much, if anything, Brady has donated to the Change The World Foundation Trust, from which Brady makes donations to charitable causes near and dear to him and his family. Here are the questions: Is Tom Brady engaged in philanthropy? Is he a philanthropist? 

If Brady has used his star power to raise over $46 million for the good causes of Best Buddies, is he not engaged in philanthropy? Should his philanthropic score be decided solely on his personal contributions to charity? One reader noted that Brady has a net worth of approximately $180 million. Even assuming this wealth was entirely in liquid investments, would one expect Tom Brady to donate $46 million to charity—26 percent of his personal net worth?  

Tiger Woods also has a personal foundation, the Tiger Woods Foundation. This charitable entity is supported so heavily from outside sources (i.e., not Tiger Woods) that it qualifies as a public charity and not as a private foundation, which is how Brady’s charity is classified by the IRS. I could provide many other examples, but suffice it to say that this is a common practice among famous people. In addition, note that Tiger has named his foundation after himself—as is common practice—while Brady has selected a name that does not immediately reflect back upon himself.

Stars like Tom Brady who donate their time and name to fundraising efforts are making a donation—a donation of time and effort. True, it is not money from their own checking accounts, but it is something of value, and it is promoting the welfare of others. In most cases, I would like to assume that the star is doing this out of a sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing what it means to be human. Therefore, I believe these stars are deeply engaged in philanthropy, and they are using their talents to multiply what they themselves could reasonably be expected to donate.