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What is Philanthropy for?

Does charitable giving still matter but need to change?

Philanthropy, the use of private assets for public good, has been much criticised in recent years. Do elite philanthropists wield too much power? Is big-money philanthropy unaccountable and therefore anti-democratic?

And what about so-called “tainted donations” and “dark money” funding pseudo-philanthropic political projects?

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many of these criticisms, leading some to conclude that philanthropy needs to be fundamentally reshaped if it is to play a positive role in our future.

Rhodri Davies, drawing on his deep knowledge of the past and present landscape of philanthropy, explains why it’s important to ask what philanthropy is for because it has for centuries played a major role in shaping our world. Considering the alternatives, including charity, justice, taxation, the state, democracy and the market, he examines the pressing questions that philanthropy must tackle if it is to be equal to the challenges of the 21st century.


“Philanthropy has never been as controversial as it is now. Davies, one of the sector’s most nuanced and intelligent thinkers, explores the complex history of philanthropy, deftly weaving together stories and insights to provide an engaging account of this transformational moment. Whether you’re a seasoned philanthropist or interested in the history and impact of charitable giving, this book is a must-read.”
Asha Curran, Giving Tuesday

“An expert on the state of philanthropy, Rhodri raises sharp questions and shares valuable insight about the relationship between justice and philanthropy. An essential read for anyone who wants to learn more about philanthropy!”
Megan Francis, University of Washington

About Rhodri Davies

Rhodri is the founder and Director of Why Philanthropy Matters.

A well-known thinker and commentator on philanthropy and civil society issue, he also hosts the popular Philanthropisms podcast.

As well as running Why Philanthropy Matters, Rhodri is a Pears Research Fellow in the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, and also the Philanthropy Expert in Residence at the Pears Foundation.

Also by Rhodri Davies

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