Images of Philanthropy

Imagery, metaphor and analogy have always played a central role in the casting, practice and understanding of philanthropy. This goes back as far as the literal origins of Western philanthropy.

From the Greek ‘philos’ (love) and ‘anthropos’ (humanity), the term philanthropy was first used in around 460BC by playwright Aeschylus to describe the moment when the Titan Prometheus, out of his ‘philanthropos tropos’, his love of humanity, offered two complementary gifts to the somewhat inept and disappointing human creatures he had created: fire, symbolising all knowledge and practical skills, and blind hope, providing optimism and empowerment to innovate.

Subsequently, diverse imagery has been used to both praise philanthropy – philanthropy as ‘pouring out its blessings’ (Marshall, 1856) or ‘shining in glory’ (Hall, 1822) – but also to criticise it, such as philanthropy being a ‘shadow state’ (Lipman, 2015).

Similarly, a variety of metaphors have been applied to distinguish between different types of philanthropists or different categories of philanthropic foundations. The former, for example, have been cast as ‘Dynasts’, ‘Communitarians’ or ‘Socialites’ (Prince & File, 2001), as well as ‘Culture Vultures’, ‘Big Fish’ or ‘Patriots and Players’ (Breeze, 2010); the latter have been differentiated as ‘gift givers’ (Leat, 1999), as ‘shoppers’ (Unwin, 2004) or, more critically, as ‘warehouses of wealth’ (Gaul & Borowski, 1993).

Notwithstanding the prominent use of metaphors, their application, use and relevance for understanding philanthropy and philanthropic foundations has received limited attention. Our ‘Images of Philanthropy’ Initiative addresses this gap: it maps and critically examines the instances, uses and characteristics of metaphors across, and in relation to, philanthropy and philanthropic foundations.

Drawing on some of the findings from our ‘Images of Philanthropy’ Initiative, each entry in this accompanying blog series introduces one image that has been put forward in an academic or non-academic context to depict or characterise an aspect of philanthropy in its different forms and expressions.

For further information about the ‘Images of Philanthropy’ Initiative, please contact Dr Tobias Jung.



Breeze, B. (2010). What do we know about major donors at the start of the 21st Century. Retrieved from
Gaul, G. M., & Borowski, N. A. (1993, 24 April). Foundations Build A Giant Nest Egg, 24th April. The Philadelphia Inquirer, p. 1.
Hall, W. S. (1822). The Empire of Philanthropy. London: Printed for the Author.
Leat, D. (1999). British Foundations: the organization and management of grantmaking. In H. Anheier & S. Toepler (Eds.), Private Funds, Public Purpose. Philanthropic Foundations in International Perspective (pp. 121-139). New York: Kluwer Academic.
Lipman, P. (2015). Capitalizing on crisis: venture philanthropy’s colonial project to remake urban education. Critical Studies in Education, 56(2), 241-258.
Marshall, C. K. (1856). The Claims of Philanthropy: an address. Jackson, LA: Vicksburg.
Prince, R. A., & File, K. M. (2001). The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors: Jossey Bass.
Unwin, J. (2004). The Grantmaking Tango: Issues for funders. London: The Baring Foundation.