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 the 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 to used to show that the donor is only doing it for power or fame. It can result in Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, where they threaten to stop donating if they do not get their way. This can also be used by villain characters to become a Villain with Good Publicity
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.
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.
- In the Batman franchise, 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. He feeds the hungry, takes care of orphans, contributes to hospitals and the like. So Gotham benefits a great deal from his largesse.
- Marvel Universe:
- In Circles, Paulie is very rich and donates to many charities and helps those who are in need of money.
- 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.
- 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 childrens food; the brackish, fetid water used in its preparation; the pupils' wretched clothing and accommodationsall 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 the 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 nine dollars a month) and the Lady Sybil Free Hospital.
- 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 apper 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!
- Subverted 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.
- Tahani in The Good Place comes from a wealthy and very well-connected family, and had the stereotypically British Stiff Upper Lip attitude drilled into her, but is kind and well-meaning and charitable. As it turns out, her efforts for charity were motivated by a craving for attention, rather than any 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 riches 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).
- 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.
- J. K. Rowling has donated a buttload to charities. Case in point. She's also an outspoken democratic socialist, having once lived in poverty.
- 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.