In 347 B.C.E., Plato left his farm to a relative, directing that the proceeds be used to support students and teachers at an academy he founded. National Philanthropy Day, November 15, marks all the ways people give to others from Plato’s day to ours.

Acts of generosity are as diverse as humanity. Wealthy donors like talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have established institutions or promoted health and education. Top givers Bill and Melinda Gates have donated more than $30 billion since 2000. A notable gift by the Gates Foundation was $50 million to an international AIDS vaccine initiative.

One need not be a billionaire to help. Americans gave $335 billion to charity in 2013 — and 95 percent of U.S. households contributed. New Yorker Sheena Matheiken wore the same dress every day for 365 days to raise money for an organization educating impoverished children in India.

Bill and Melinda Gates visit with hospital patients in India, where a vaccine is being developed to combat AIDS. (AP Photo/Press Trust of India)
Bill and Melinda Gates visit with hospital patients in India, where a vaccine is being developed to combat AIDS. (AP Images)

In Australia, 67-year-old Nick Le Souef helped raise money for children with disabilities by locking himself inside a glass store window for three weeks … with 300 poisonous spiders.

Anyone and everyone can be a philanthropist. People can donate to and microfinance projects in developing nations through organizations like Opportunity International, Kiva and Charitykick — playing a crucial role in the economic well-being of the world.

Plus, philanthropy just feels good. Brain scans show that the act of giving releases dopamine, a chemical that controls our brains’ pleasures and rewards.