List of classifications of philanthropy

This page is a list of classifications of philanthropy.


Name Creator Creation date Notes
National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) National Center for Charitable Statistics 1980s1 This seems to be the standard classification in the United States. It is used by the IRS, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator (although Charity Navigator also has its own classification system). The “major groups” are: (1) Arts, Culture, and Humanities; (2) Education; (3) Environment and Animals; (4) Health; (5) Human Services; (6) International, Foreign Affairs; (7) Public, Societal Benefit; (8) Religion Related; (9) Mutual/Membership Benefit; and (10) Unknown, Unclassified.
Charity Navigator’s Categories/Causes system2 Charity Navigator 2007?3 The categories (under which the causes are organized) are: (1) Animals; (2) Arts, Culture, Humanities; (3) Community Development; (4) Education; (5) Environment; (6) Health; (7) Human and Civil Rights; (8) Human Services; (9) International; (10) Research and Public Policy; and (11) Religion.
Australia’s charity subtypes4 Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission The subtypes are: (1) Advancing health; (2) Advancing education; (3) Advancing social or public welfare; (4) Advancing religion; (5) Advancing culture; (6) Promoting reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance between groups of individuals that are in Australia; (7) Promoting or protecting human rights; (8) Advancing the security or safety of Australia or the Australian public; (9) Preventing or relieving the suffering of animals; (10) Advancing the natural environment; (11) Any other purpose beneficial to the general public that may reasonably be regarded as analogous to, or within the spirit of, any of the purposes mentioned in the subtypes above; (12) Advancing public debate (promoting or opposing a change to any matter established by law, policy or practice in the Commonwealth, a state, a territory or another country); (13) Health promotion charities; (14) Public benevolent institutions.
Charity Accounts Taxonomy Financial Reporting Council 2017 (last update)5 There is a browser-based taxonomy viewer.6 Under “500 – Dimensions Content”, there is a “Charities specific dimensions” heading, under which there is a “Charitable objectives” heading. This heading contains the following objectives: (1) prevention or relief of poverty; (2) advancement of education; (3) advancement of religion; (4) advancement of health or the saving of lives; (5) advancement of citizenship or community development; (6) advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science; (7) advancement of amateur sport; (8) advancement of human rights, conflict resolution or reconciliation or the promotion of religious or racial harmony or equality and diversity; (9) advancement of environmental protection or improvement; (10) relief of those in need, by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantage; (11) advancement of animal welfare; (12) promotion of the efficiency of the armed forces of the Crown, or of the efficiency of the police, fire and rescue services or ambulance services; and (13) any other charitable services.
Philanthropy Classification System7 Foundation Center 2014 There are several classification styles here, but the most relevant for classifying cause areas is the “Subjects” classification. The highest level of the “Subjects” tree has the following areas listed: (1) Agriculture, fishing and forestry; (2) Arts and culture; (3) Community and economic development; (4) Education; (5) Environment; (6) Health; (7) Human rights; (8) Human services; (9) Information and communications; (10) International relations; (11) Philanthropy; (12) Public affairs; (13) Public safety; (14) Religion; (15) Science; (16) Social sciences; (17) Sports and recreation; and (18) Unknown or not classified.
Grants Classification System Foundation Center 1982?8 Mentioned as a predecessor to the Philanthropy Classification System.9
Taxonomy of Philanthropy Catalogue for Philanthropy 2005?10 George McCully has written an essay explaining some of the motivations behind this taxonomy (the part around “We first considered using the conventional National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities” is interesting).11 The first two layers of the taxonomy are: (1) Nature (subdivided into Plants, Animals, and Environment); (2) Culture (subdivided into Arts and Education); and (3) People (subdivided into Food, Clothing, Shelter, Health, Safety, Employment, Civic Status, Community, and Recreation).12
Luke Muehlhauser’s “four focus areas”13 Luke Muehlhauser 2013 The four focus areas are (1) poverty reduction, (2) meta effective altruism, (3) the long-term future, and (4) animal suffering. Muehlhauser also suggests “effective environmental altruism” as a fifth focus area. This classification seems to have become somewhat of the norm in the effective altruism movement.
GiveWell’s categorization of large-scale philanthropy focus areas14 GiveWell/Open Philanthropy Project 2012 “In categorizing giving for both of these, we deliberately used categories tailored to our own interests (rather than trying to come up with a universally useful taxonomy).”15


The reason for looking at how philanthropic areas are classified is to get some inspiration for how cause areas on this wiki might be classified. I think none of the existing classifications are well-suited for dealing with novel cause areas like AI safety or moral advocacy, but the best case could still be that we can add things on to an existing classification system.

See also

External links

  1. “National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities”. NCCS. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  2. “How Do We Classify Charities?”. Charity Navigator. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  3. “Charity Navigator - How Do We Classify Charities?”. Archived from the original on August 26, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  4. “Charity subtypes and charitable purpose”. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  5. “Financial Reporting Council”. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  6. “Taxonomy Viewer”. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  7. “Philanthropy Classification System”. Foundation Center. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  8. “Archived Grants Classification System”. Foundation Center. Retrieved April 27, 2018. “The GCS served as the basis for much of the Center’s work for the last 30 years. In 2012 we began an extensive review of the GCS and how we could expand its content to better capture the work being done in philanthropic sector around the globe and could serve as a tool for the sector to help them classify and organize their own work”.

  9. “Philanthropy Classification System”. Foundation Center. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  10. “The Taxonomy of Philanthropy”. Catalogue for Philanthropy. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  11. ““Philanthropy,” “Nonprofits,” and the IRS Master Data File for Massachusetts”. Conversations On Philanthropy. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  12. “Philanthropic Taxonomy with Image - Philanthropic-Taxonomy.pdf”. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  13. Luke Muehlhauser (July 8, 2013). “Four Focus Areas of Effective Altruism”. LessWrong. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  14. Holden Karnofsky. “What large-scale philanthropy focuses on today”. The GiveWell Blog. July 25, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2018.

  15. Holden Karnofsky. “What large-scale philanthropy focuses on today”. The GiveWell Blog. July 25, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2018.