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philanthropic foundation

a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization, with assets provided by donors and managed by its own officials and with income expended for socially useful purposes. Foundation, endowment, and charitable trust are terms used interchangeably to designate these organizations, which can be traced far back in history. They existed in the ancient civilizations of the Middle East, Greece, and Rome. Plato's Academy (c. 387 BC), for example, was established with an endowment that helped to sustain its existence for some 900 years. The medieval Christian church set up and administered trusts for benevolent purposes. The Islamic world developed an equivalent to the foundation, entitled the waqf, as early as the 7th century AD. Merchants in 17th- and 18th-century western Europe founded similar organizations for worthy causes.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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