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  • Writer's pictureKen Phillips

Historic Origins and Cultural Traditions of Charity

Updated: 2 days ago


Charity has deep-rooted origins and cultural traditions that have shaped its role in society over centuries. In "Make a Better World," I delve into the historical and cultural foundations of charity, highlighting its evolution and significance. This blog explores these themes, offering a comprehensive understanding of charity's role in human history.

Religious Foundations of Charity

Helping others has a long and honorable tradition in religion and human relations. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and other religions all share a common perspective on the importance of compassionate and caring action toward others, especially those in need. Here are a few examples of how various religions view charity:

  • Rigveda (Hinduism): “One should strongly resent miserliness and indulge in charity because one can acquire the never-ending wealth of immortality by doing so.”

  • Genesis 28:22 (Christianity): “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.’”

  • Hindu Proverb: “Help thy brother’s boat across and lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”

  • Gautama Buddha (Buddhism): “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

  • Isaiah 58:10 (Judaism): “And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.”

  • Torah (Judaism): “Serve others in a way that helps them become self-reliant (or interdependent) and watch miracles happen for both you and them.”

  • Mark 12:41-44 (Christianity): “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

  • Quran 2:215 (Islam): “They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity. Say: ‘Whatever you spend with a good heart, give it to parents, relatives, orphans, the helpless, and travelers in need. Whatever good you do, God is aware of it.’”

  • Dalai Lama: “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.”

  • Pope Francis: “None of us can think we are exempt from concerns for the poor and for social justice.”

My understanding from these essential religious beliefs is that charity is rooted in caring and love, a measure of our humanity, and a sign of progress in civilization. Individuals who are caring and charitable will be happier and more respected as true followers of their faith and values and contributors to civilization. Based on these teachings, people have long made this a better world for all.

Philosophical and Literary Inspirations

Religious and philosophical underpinnings of philanthropy are important for fundraisers. Nonprofit fundraising can recognize these great traditions by underscoring the history of charity and its value for civilization. Here are a few examples from philosophy and literature:

  • Aristotle: “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.”

  • Confucius: “When wealth is distributed, the people are brought together.”

  • Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

  • Albert Schweitzer: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

  • Aesop: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

  • Victor Hugo: “As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.”

  • Charles Dickens: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

  • Leo Tolstoy: “My piece of bread only belongs to me when I know that everyone else has a share, and that no one starves while I eat.”

  • Nelson Mandela: “It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Cultural Traditions of Charity

Every culture has famous heroes who help others. Caring is a predominant theme in many myths and fairy tales, novels and poems, classic operas, and popular music. Stories inform people about building character and promoting values among their audiences. Today, movies about individuals who fight against evil and oppression against great odds are wildly popular, and these heroes are often everyday people just like you and me.

Benefits to the Giver

Giving provides higher levels of satisfaction. By giving, people receive something vitally important in return. Here is what some of the great minds of the ages have said about this topic:

  • Confucius: “He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.”

  • Saint Francis of Assisi: “For it is in giving that we receive.”

  • Booker T. Washington: “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

  • Kahlil Gibran: “I served and I saw that service is joy.”

  • Erich Fromm: “Not he who has much is rich but he who gives much.”


The historic origins and cultural traditions of charity provide a rich context for understanding its contemporary significance. By appreciating these foundations, we can better harness the power of charity to address today's social challenges. For more insights into the cultural traditions of charity and effective fundraising strategies, visit for free resources and access to a 30% discount on my books. Don't forget to repost this blog to spread the knowledge and inspire others!

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