In our time, the word "philanthropy" now refers to "private initiatives for public good". Philanthropy thus differs from private companies as well as public institutions, since it operates for public good through private actors' voluntary acts. The word's common meaning has narrowed to financial gifts to projects in various fields: poverty relief, education, health, scientific research, environment, arts and culture... Philanthropy often means giving money to public purpose organizations (associations, foundations, public museums and universities, etc.). Nevertheless, it also includes in-kind donations and volunteering, which also play an important role. A lot of philanthropists also implement their own projects. Philanthropy refers to all voluntary donations by private actors to serve the public good.
Who can be a philanthropist? In the collective imagination, the term mainly refers to American billionaires (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett), first-generation heirs of powerful industrialists and philanthropists (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford). But there is a philanthropic tradition in most regions of the world, and not only very rich people give. More broadly, philanthropy encompasses all private donations, whether they come from "major donors" (who can create their own foundation to distribute their funds) or "small donors" whose combined donations provide for the largest NGOs and associations. What about companies? They also contribute to all these fundings for the common good. While Anglo-Saxons talk about "corporate philanthropy", French people prefer to call it "mécénat d'entreprise", or "corporate patronage" (a term that was first promoted by Jacques Rigaud in the 1980s).