Just reading the phrase “global philanthropy” brings to mind a rather obvious notion: philanthropic groups that draw from donors from around the world and seek to nurture positive change on an international stage. But the reality can be a bit more complicated, thus making it hard to find a concrete definition for what this ubiquitous phrase actually means. Part of the confusion stems from the relative youth of the phrase. “Global philanthropy” was not a part of the regular parlance until the turn of this century, and experts are still figuring out how to differentiate this practice from traditional philanthropy. But, there are three loose frameworks that we can use to assist us in drawing meaning.

Exported Philanthropy

The first potential interpretation of global philanthropy references the locality of the donors and the recipients. Under this umbrella, global philanthropy is seen as any organization in which the donors are localized and the funds are allocated outside that locality. This definition is similar to “international philanthropy” in nature, so questions arise as to whether a global philanthropy project has to invest funds across multiple countries, or if targeted donations affecting a single country or region qualify for the designation.

Private Initiatives For the Public Good

The second interpretation of global philanthropy attempts to separate it from state-based efforts. The distinction here is largely one of private versus public interests. A government-backed attempt at providing school lunches to needy communities is essentially a domestic social welfare program, while similar initiatives abroad would be defined as foreign aid. This definition assumes that the “global” in global philanthropy is not derived from the scale of the organization but from the fact that it draws from philanthropic principles practiced around the globe. Regardless of the scope of your focus, any philanthropic organization that draws from internationally practiced standards can be seen as global philanthropy. Like exported philanthropy and international philanthropy, this particular interpretation is sometimes synonymous with a broader branch: general philanthropy.

Grand Scale Philanthropy

The final interpretation is scarcely sourced but perhaps the best fit thanks to its inability to be confused with the definitions of general or international philanthropy. “Grand scale philanthropy” judges whether or not a project is global based on the scale of the problem it addresses. In these cases, the funding of an all girl’s school in India or healthcare in Kenya wouldn’t qualify, because their results are localized. To qualify as global philanthropy on a grand scale, a project needs to address issues that affect the entire globe like climate change, world hunger, or water security.

Utilizing one of the above three definitions will help you discern whether or not your project or donation qualifies as a contribution to global philanthropy. Until the term becomes more common and clearly defined, we must rely on interpretation.