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What Is a Benefactor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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A benefactor is someone who assists people or organizations, often financially, although benefactors may help out in other ways as well. The people who receive the benefactor's good will are known as beneficiaries. This term is derived from the Latin roots for “good” and “maker,” reflecting the widely held idea that people who engage in charity are making good in their communities and world at large by helping people in need of assistance.

Financially, benefactors can provide loans, grants, and outright gifts of money to people and causes they support. This may be done during life and after death through a will; many people name beneficiaries in their wills with the goal of ensuring that their money continues to do good after they die. During life, many benefactors set up trusts with named beneficiaries, providing financial assistance through the trust and making arrangements which will allow control of the trust to roll over to the beneficiary after death.

Benefactors can also donate products and services. For example, someone might offer use of a private plane for transport to someone such as a sick person who needs to travel for care, or to members of the military who want to return home for the holidays but cannot afford it. Likewise, benefactors can donate goods to victims of disasters, including everything from toiletries to homes. Benefactors may also offer services such as assistance with tax preparation for people who cannot afford accounting services.

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Someone who wishes to act as a benefactor can choose among a wide variety of populations and charitable causes when deciding where and how to donate. Benefactors work outside the government safety net, and many focus their efforts on populations which may be underserved by government programs. In some nations, this has attracted controversy, as some people have argued that charitable giving leads governments to conclude that they can have weak social service systems in place and rely upon the good of wealthier citizens to protect and care for the disadvantaged members of society.

Benefactors also have a choice between being named, being anonymous, and doing works through a trust or public organization which may include multiple benefactors working together. Some people prefer to give anonymously because they do not want to attract attention, and in some religious sects, people are strongly encouraged to engage in anonymous giving to put the focus of the good deed on the recipient, rather than the benefactor. Some people also argue that acting as an anonymous benefactor makes it harder for people who are reluctant to accept assistance to refuse it, because they do not know where to direct their refusal.

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