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Wealthy Philanthropist

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"Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse."

Rich people in fiction come in many shapes. Wealthy Philanthropists are filthy rich, but they are very well aware of their privilege and they know they have been extremely lucky in life. In addition, they are not ignorant of other people whose lot in life is considerably worse. To balance social injustices, they try to use their money to help the poor and other people who are in need. They can help local people with whom they might (almost) interact, or they may be involved in various charity projects, or they may even start huge foundations or charity organizations. Some of the actions might be done anonymously. Why do they do it? Good Feels Good.

Being a philanthropist who does much good serves as a characterization device to show that the character has a heart, and to further develop the character as a decent human being and worthy member of society. It might be apparent right from the start of the story, or it could be revealed as their Hidden Heart of Gold.

This character trope can also be used to show that the donor is only doing it for power or fame or to offset the evil they do to maintain their wealth or for tax reasons. It can result in Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, where they threaten to stop donating if they do not get their way.

On the other hand, this character is not always good. A fairly common spin on the trope is for the Philanthropist to be a Villain with Good Publicity and Corrupt Corporate Executive who's not doing it because Good Feels Good, nor because they're trying to solve social ills. It's just Enlightened Self-Interest. They're just doing it to launder their reputation and save money on taxes. They start a massive foundation to address a problem to show that they care without having to actually care. Boom, you spend a fraction of your wealth, and now the poors aren't coming for your money. It's also fairly common for the charity itself to actually be an evil organization the Philanthropist is using to carry out their Evil Plan while hiding from public scrutiny — because who would be so heartless as to go up against a charity group?

A Wealthy Philanthropist is likely to be Non-Idle Rich and related to Royals Who Actually Do Something. They are equally likely to be a Self-Made Man or come from Old Money. When one of these is a member of The Team, they're The Team Benefactor. If they're frustrated with their role, they're a Beleaguered Benefactor.

Compare to Uncle Pennybags who is incredibly wealthy and uses his money to help people as well, but he usually focuses on having fun. He is also more likely to spend the money together with those he has enriched. Compare to Rich Kid Turned Social Activist who's from a very rich background but tries to help the poor and downtrodden personally and directly.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Flame of Recca: Subverted with Mori Kouran. When he's first introduced from a TV, he's donating a huge sum of money as a philanthropist out of genuine kindness of the poor. That's all actually a mask to hide his extremely sociopathic personality. Behind all that, he holds an underground deathmatch tournament for the amusement of other sociopathic elites and himself without regards on the loss of human lives, and ruthlessly tries to find a way to live forever so he can enjoy all his riches and pleasures forever.
  • Rebuild World: Akira gets told by his Eccentric Mentor Kibayashi all about how the food that those living in the slums eat is Mystery Meat filled with harmful Nanomachines that slowly build up in your blood stream until they kill you, and potentially radioactive plant products, as well as the fact that the food has warning labels but most slum dwellers Never Learned to Read. While he’s only middle class at best, the next thing Akira does when visiting Sheryl’s slum gang he’s supporting, is to donate millions of aurum to make sure the kids can eat decent food and be taught to read and write.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman
    • Bruce Wayne spends large amounts of money on public projects. Not that it ever reduces crime in Gotham, but it's the thought that counts. His alter ego, on the other hand, reduces crime by punching it in the face. Not all Bruce's philanthropic projects are meant to stop crime, though. His money helps to feed the hungry, take care of orphans, he contributes to hospitals and the like. So Gotham benefits a great deal from his largesse.
    • In Robin (1993), Bruce's adoptive son Tim Drake takes after him by spearheading a new program to help support community centers, gyms and provide better education in poor areas, starting in Gotham City and then spreading globally where he receives local permission.
    • It runs in the family, as Nightwing (Infinite Frontier) has Dick Grayson, after inheriting a large windfall from Alfred, creating the Alfred Pennyworth Foundation to help Bludhaven with several social programs.
  • In Nightfall Graham Etchison (who has a trust fund and is the son of a disgraced politician) is introduced raising money for underprivileged children and personally chaperones a group of them on a camping trip. After Graham's psychotic cousin Abattoir tries to kill all of them, Graham attends a therapy session with the kids and promises to take them on a second trip to make up for the ruined experience. When Clayface shows up to kidnap him for Abattoir, Graham doesn't resist once Clayface promises not harm Dr. Thompkins or the kids.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Iron Man: Back when Iron Man had a Secret Identity, his alter-ego Tony Stark personally financed the Avengers, and thus was seen as a philanthropist.
    • Runaways: Exploited by the PRIDE, six rich families who use philanthropy as a Crime-Concealing Hobby for their villainy.
  • In Circles, Paulie is very rich and donates to many charities and helps those who are in need of money.
  • The Disney Mouse and Duck Comics have a few:
    • Mouseton had Lucius Lamb. It was partly justified as cover for his criminal activities, but considering his genuinely affably person he also did it out the good of his heart.
    • Mickey's father donated most of his fortune to the poor to help the recovery from The Great Depression.
    • John Rockerduck is known in Duckburg for funding charities and cultural activities, though with the goal of reducing his taxes.
    • Surprisingly enough, Scrooge funds all sorts of charities. He does so in secret, partly to keep his image as a miserly tightwad and partly because he considers it basic decency and thus not really worthy of being glorified.

    Fan Works 
  • Common People: Deconstructed and enforced. Bruce is perfectly aware that a lot of crime in Gotham is a natural extension of the growing poverty in the city, which is why he's continuing his mother's philanthropic work. However, losing his parents in Crime Alley doesn't change the fact that Bruce grew up in the one percent of the socioeconomic strata of the world. No matter how much money he generates, most of it is useless if he can't properly apply it to actually help out the poor in Gotham, which he can't do because he lacks the proper experience to empathize with those people. It isn't until Jason joins the family that the Wayne Foundation's philanthropic work begins in earnest.
  • Downplayed, but present in fernwithys The Hunger Games story The Tesserae Coalition where Peeta and his friends take out tesserae (which ensures that extra slips of paper with their names are cumulatively added into the reaping bowl, increasing their chances of being reaped for the Hunger Games) they don't need and donate it anonymously to the community home and various poor families, giving food to people who need it and would have to take tesserae themselves without it.
  • It's a Wonderful Christmas, Carole: Matthew, the man who has taken an interest in Carole, is described as being widely respected for his philanthropic work, using his fortune to set up communities, soup kitchens, and scholarship programs everywhere. His kindness also extends to Carole's children as he treats Ben like the son he never had, which leads to him following in his footsteps and promoting charities that aim to ensure that children get to play outside every day.
  • The Cutting Edge: This is the path Oliver Queen takes in the new timeline. Instead of opening a night club, he decides to open a soup kitchen instead. Part of this is so he can prove himself to Peggy Sue protagonist and ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance, but he later admits to her that once the idea entered his mind and he started seriously thinking about it, the more he came to like it. It becomes clear that Oliver genuinely enjoys this kind of work more than any other job he could have had, so Laurel comes to see it as a positive change, and the soup kitchen later becomes a frequent hangout spot for the vigilantes alongside the Wildcat Gym.

    Films — Animation 
  • Flushed Away: Roddy helps Rita's family out of poverty by agreeing to pay her and her family with real minerals in exchange for taking her back to the surface. He eventually succeeds at this goal.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Absolute Power (1997): Water Sullivan has given over a billion dollars to charity, and when he bought and closed down the coal mine his father died from working in, he gave every miner $50,000 (in 1940's money) to retire on.
  • Forrest Gump: Forrest Gump's shrimp business really takes off and Lt. Dan wisely invests their money in Apple Computer. Following his mom's philosophy, Forrest starts giving money to various projects in his town and state, like renovating their town church or founding a new hospital department. Also, to honor his old friend, Bubba, who died in the Vietnam War, he gave Bubba's share of the company to his family, and they're financially secure for the rest of their lives.
  • The Avengers: The rich CEO Tony Stark once described himself as "a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist".
  • In Within Our Gates, Sylvia's quest for funding Piney Woods School is successful when she is hit by a car carrying Mrs. Warwick, a rich lady. Mrs. Warwick writes a fat check.
  • Hysteria: Charlotte comes from the upper-middle class and her family is comfortably rich. She uses her dowry to help the poor and sets up a school for poor children. She also tries to get charity money from other wealthy people.
  • In the 1926 silent comedy For Heaven's Sake, Harold Lloyd plays an Eccentric Millionaire who becomes one by accident. After inadvertently destroying a priest's charity pushcart, Harold offers to pay for it. In a misunderstanding, the priest thinks he's offering to sponsor a mission and asks for a thousand dollars. Harold doesn't find out what he did until he reads about his supposed generosity in the newspaper.
  • In Jerry And Marge Go Large, newly-retired Jerry finds a flaw in the lottery's probability distribution that allows him to make a substantial profit every time... assuming he buys enough tickets. His wife Marge decides they should go as big as they can, just to do something crazy together, and the money starts rolling in as they buy thousands of tickets every play cycle. Jerry sets up a business to make even more money out of it and sells shares to other townspeople so they can collectively revitalize their hometown of Evart. By the time the loophole is closed and they can't play the lottery anymore, Jerry's friend is running an ice cream shop for a lease of just $1.19 a month thanks to social funds, Jerry's struggling accountant has bought a Corvette, and an out-of-code stage has been fixed up so Evart can start hosting a yearly jazz festival again.

  • Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma is a rich young lady and she is very compassionate to the poor. She visits the poor personally and assists them as best as she can. She also sends food and gifts to Mrs and Miss Bates, two ladies from a clergyman's family who fell into harder times.
  • Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is acknowledged to be a liberal man who does much good among the poor that live near his estate.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The count mostly uses his vast fortune to further his plans and reward those he holds dear to him, but occasionally uses it to help those in need.
  • Captain Nemo of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is fabulously wealthy thanks to both his initial fortune and that he's the only one with the technology to loot sunken galleons, which he uses to both help the oppressed and any people fighting the British.
  • Jane Eyre: Zigzagged with Lowood school for orphaned girls and its sponsors. Part of the building was built by Naomi Blocklehurst, late mother of its current "benefactor" the Rev. Mr. Brocklehurst, a pastor who thinks himself pious and generous, but who has a sick, twisted mind. The pupils all suffer from hunger and cold and lack of other supplies, and later lots of them die of typhus because they're weakened from malnutrition and dampness of the building. After that, the situation was improved by some wealthy people and the institution became useful and the orphans were indeed helped and educated there.
    "When the typhus fever had fulfilled its mission of devastation at Lowood, it gradually disappeared from thence; but not till its virulence and the number of its victims had drawn public attention on the school. Inquiry was made into the origin of the scourge, and by degrees various facts came out which excited public indignation in a high degree. The unhealthy nature of the site; the quantity and quality of the children’s food; the brackish, fetid water used in its preparation; the pupils' wretched clothing and accommodations—all these things were discovered, and the discovery produced a result mortifying to Mr. Brocklehurst, but beneficial to the institution.
    Several wealthy and benevolent individuals in the county subscribed largely for the erection of a more convenient building in a better situation; new regulations were made; improvements in diet and clothing introduced; the funds of the school were intrusted to the management of a committee. Mr. Brocklehurst, who, from his wealth and family connections, could not be overlooked, still retained the post of treasurer; but he was aided in the discharge of his duties by gentlemen of rather more enlarged and sympathising minds: his office of inspector, too, was shared by those who knew how to combine reason with strictness, comfort with economy, compassion with uprightness. The school, thus improved, became in time a truly useful and noble institution."
  • Commander Vimes in the Discworld novels prefers not thinking too hard about the fact he's one of the richest people in the city. He has, however, used his wealth to fund both the City Watch Widows and Orphans Fund (which he was already paying out of his own pocket back when he was making thirty dollars a month) and the Lady Sybil Free Hospital. He also refuses to give up his job as Commander of the City Watch, and uses that position to do right by the working-class population of Ankh-Morpork by making very sure they don't have to deal with corrupt or heavy-handed policing and that nobody gets to say "Screw the Rules, I Have Money!" and get away with it.
  • Around the World in Eighty Days: Mr Phileas Fogg is a very rich English gentleman of the Idle Rich variety because he has no job and doesn't seem to do much except frequenting the Reform Club and reading papers. However, the narrator says that whenever he knew that money was needed for a noble, useful, or benevolent purpose, he supplied it quietly and sometimes anonymously. He also gives money to a beggar-woman with a child who asks for alms when he and Passepartout leave London.
  • In Daddy-Long-Legs, Jervis Pendleton comes from an Old Money family but (to the disapproval of his relatives) spends his money on charitable projects "instead of spending it on such sensible things as yachts and automobiles and polo ponies". Judy learns at the end that, in addition to the projects he's already told her about, he's a trustee of the orphanage where she grew up and the anonymous benefactor who paid for her education.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mrs. Grabar in the Our Miss Brooks episode "Madison Country Club". She gives anonymously to worthwhile causes, especially favoring any causes where children are concerned.
  • Margery of the House Tyrell in Game of Thrones knows that being generous to the poor might give her some political advantage over the Lannisters who appear to be equally (i.e. filthily) rich as the Tyrells but shown to be a fairly decadent lot. Margery is seen interacting with children at the orphanage in King's Landing or she declares that whatever food won't be eaten at her royal wedding shall be given to the poor.
  • In the premiere of Royal Pains Hank prioritizes a dying poor man over a rich man who was in stable condition. The rich man has unforeseen complications and dies. The dead man's family turn out to be the hospital's biggest donors and they use this to force the hospital to fire Hank even though medically he did nothing wrong. Since they also donate money to all the major hospitals in New York, Hank is blacklisted from working as a hospital doctor.
  • A story arc on House concerned the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company offering to donate millions to the hospital. However, the donation has numerous strings attached and it becomes clear that the CEO is using it to gain power over the hospital and use it to promote his company's products. In the end, Cuddy convinces the hospital's board to decline the donation and maintain its independence.
  • CSI: NY: Coroner Sid Hammerbeck turned into a philanthropist after getting rich off his pillow invention. He'd found out he was suffering from lymphoma and possibly going to die, and decided that since it couldn't buy a cure and he couldn't take it with him, he'd help the families of some of the victims that came through the morgue. Jo found out it was him, but no one else did.
  • Phineas Hufnagle from The Pinkertons episode "Think of the Children". The scion of a rich family, he's Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life, so he raises money to open an orphanage. He's "naive and pompous", but he means well.
  • This is the theme of the short-lived series The Philanthropist. Billionaire playboy Teddy Rist, after the death of his young son and a life-changing experience in Nigeria, decides to start using his wealth for good and jets around the globe doing good deeds, much to the admiring exasperation of his business partners and friends.
  • Everwood: Andy was a top-notch brain surgeon in New York, but decided to move to a small town and work as a GP, offering his services free of charge. An amazing thing in America where lots of people don't have insurance and often can't afford any treatment at all.
    Edna: Remind me again why you're offering this thankless town free medicine?
    Andy: Well, the long answer is that after fifteen years of making money off of other people's sickness, I've decided to alleviate my guilt by doing something incredibly altruistic. The short answer is: I'm nuts!
  • Exploited on an episode of the legal series Family Law. Rex's client is a Gold Digger divorcing her tech millionaire husband and seeking to take over his estate because he's giving all his money away to needy people around the world and she thinks this is wrong if not insane. Not surprisingly the court rules against her. Rex subsequently learns that the husband started charities to tie up his assets and gain sympathy in the divorce case and that once all that was done he planned to simply go on leading the high life.
  • Julie's Greenroom, a Netflix children's series about Julie Andrews hosting a group of Muppet kids called Greenies who are learning about the theatre features Edna Brightful, a wealthy benefactor played by Andrews's good friend Carol Burnett. At the end of the show's first season, she watches the original musical, Mash-Up the Musical, created by the Greenies and is so impressed that she says her check will be in the mail the next day.
  • The Mentalist: Patrick Jane got filthy rich during his psychic days scamming people, but he decided to use his wealth for the good to balance it out. He can also win absurdly large amounts of money in gambling any time he chooses to. He was seen giving money to families who lost their money or entire property (usually because of an error or one black sheep) or who were poor and needed help (e.g., he sent a briefcase full of money to a young woman whose mother was seriously ill and in need of transplant operation which she couldn't afford), or he gave money and expensive stuff he had won in poker to charity boxes that collect used clothes.
  • The Good Place: In life, Tahani was a rich socialite who regularly fundraised for charitable causes. It's what ostensibly got her into The Good Place postmortem, though as it turns out, her efforts for charity were motivated by a craving for attention rather than a genuine desire to help others.
  • Schitt's Creek: Prior to going broke, Johnny and Moira were philanthropists, but Johnny seems to have mostly donated in order to get things named after Moira, and Moira organized fund-raisers for social reasons. A much-poorer Johnny eventually supports a community flower garden, which is named after Moira.
  • Andor: In the years leading up to the Rebellion, Mon Mothma presented herself as a rich senator dedicated to well-intentioned but ultimately inconsequential charities to hide her rebellion-building. Her concern is genuine, but she knows that revolution is more effective than philanthropy.
    Mon Mothma: They know they watch me, and I want that, because as long as everyone thinks I'm an irritation, there's a good chance they'll miss what I'm really doing.
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (2023): Juno and Morella use the fortunes they inherit from the deaths of the Ushers and the dissolution of Fortunato towards philanthropic endeavors.

  • The music video for "King for a Day" by Battle Beast unflatteringly depicts the song's titular "king" in this way, complete with a giant check (like the one in the image at the top of this page) which he then yanks away from its supposed recipient the moment he's no longer on-camera. (And, given that this album was released in February 2017, it's entirely plausible that the character in the video was meant to be a thinly-veiled parody of someone who in the previous year had gotten some negative publicity from news outlets – for example, in this news story – for publicly pledging money to charitable causes and then not following through on those pledges.)
  • Part of the lyrics of "The Revolution Will Be Televised" by The Wildhearts take a dig at philanthropists, on the grounds that they ultimately don't do much to help other people & instead are really only doing it to improve their own public image:
    Pledging your millions off a TV screen
    While the shit on your doorstep remains uncleaned

    Video Games 
  • Ergo Glast from Warframe proves to be this in a quest where the player works with him. He stakes his entire fortune in a gambit to win back a child his rival Nef Anyo had kidnapped, espousing his belief that "wealth is meaningless if not turned against the suffering of others."

  • Unwinder's Tall Comics plays with this. Spondulio Wealthmonger is obscenely wealthy, and he funds so many charities that he's hailed as the world's most generous man. But he's quick to proclaim that he's actually selfish to the core, and all his charities are actually schemes (very long-term schemes) to make himself even wealthier.

    Web Videos 
  • The Victorian Way: Mrs Warwick, the housekeeper at Audley End House, says that Lady Braybrooke has done a lot for the necessitous children of Walden and has done many other charitable activities. In the episode "How to Make Soup for the Poor", Lady Braybrooke has asked Mrs Crocombe to make simple soup for distributing to the poor of the parish because it's winter and very cold.

    Western Animation 
  • A funny In-Universe example for Steven Universe comes from the titular character's wrestling persona "Tiger Millionaire" who is supposedly crazy rich (all fake money used as stage props) and highly conceited. In the episode "Tiger Philanthropist", Amethyst quits the tag-team wrestling circuit because she's bored and is no longer using it as a means to deal with her inadequacy, leaving Steven alone in a 2-on-2 league. Upset, Steven changes his persona to "Tiger Philanthropist", and tries to make others happy as a way to cope being without a partner by both being nicer to the wrestlers and audience while throwing "jungle bucks" to the fans. Ultimately this fails, and he explains to Amethyst that he enjoyed having an activity with her which is why being Tiger Millionaire was fun, something she didn't consider when she quit. In Tiger Philanthropist's ultimate act of charity, he offers his championship belt to anyone who can grab it after he hangs it from the ceiling of the wrestling ring during one of the night's matches. Amethyst shows up mid-match in her wrestling persona and the two purposefully take a dive, allowing the belt to be taken, but doing so on their terms together.

    Real Life 
  • Bill Gates is known to be a generous philanthropist as much as he's among the most successful CEO in the world. His foundations serve to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty. In the USA, they aim to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.
  • Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest individuals with a net worth of roughly $70 billion, has pledged to give 99% of his wealth to charity.
  • Warren Buffett and Bill Gates created the Giving Pledge, a campaign to encourage the wealthy to give at least half of their money to charity (128 billionaires had signed the pledge as of January 2015).
  • Duty Free Shoppers co-founder Chuck Feeney secretly donated all his company shares to his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies in 1984 with the goal of donating all of it in his lifetime. In 2020, Atlantic closed their doors after giving it all away.
  • Millionaire steel baron Andrew Carnegie came to believe in his obligation to donate his wealth to good causes. He gave away mountains of money to charity and public works, including public libraries.
  • Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite was itself a philanthropic effort that saved many lives by putting the explosive nitroglycerin (used for mining) into a form that could be handled safely. On the other hand, he also profited from selling explosive compounds that he invented such as ballistite to countries that adopted them for military purposes. When he read a premature obituary for himself in 1888 that painted him as a "merchant of death", he became concerned about what kind of legacy he was leaving the world. Upon his death, he bequeathed about 94% of his massive wealth — equivalent at the time to £1,687,837 — to create the Nobel Prize to recognize outstanding contributions for humanity in chemistry, literature, peace, physics, and medicine.
  • The entire Rockefeller family. Adjusting for inflation, John D. Rockefeller died worth $318 billion. He gave away (again, adjusting for inflation) $9.5 billion. His descendants have given away even more.
  • Andrew Mellon dumped his entire — phenomenal — art collection on the Smithsonian Institution, funded (through a trust) the construction of a place to store it, and placed as condition only that it not be named for him. Mellon gave them so much money and art they created a whole new museum organization instead of just sticking it in the one they already had.
  • James Smithson left his entire fortune to the United States government to create an institution for the dissemination of knowledge, despite never having set foot in the U.S. in his lifetime.
  • After his famous climb, Sir Edmund Hillary in gratitude to the Sherpa people devoted his life to helping them. Several Sherpa students at schools he founded know him better as the founder of their school than as a climber.
  • Dolly Parton has numerous charities that she operates under The Dollywood Foundation, on top of the various donations she makes to other organizations. The most noteworthy among them are Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, which gives out one free book a month to children enrolled in it from birth until they reach kindergarten. It was honored in 2018 by the Library of Congress for giving out 100 million books. Also her 1 million dollar donation to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center was cited as one of the funding sources for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine


Video Example(s):


Gazillionaire Gump

Forrest Gump uses his expanded fortune to give to those who helped him along the way, including the family of deceased best friend, Bubba.

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Example of:

Main / WealthyPhilanthropist

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