Do Good With These Kindly Synonyms For Humanitarians

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day. Organized by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the designation dates back to 2008. That year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to commemorate the August, 19, 2003 bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed 22 humanitarian aid workers.

Every year since, the date has drawn attention to humanitarians (people who promote human welfare and social reforms) across the globe. These volunteers are heroes through and through. Rightly, there’s no shortage of ways to speak about them. These are some other noble words for people of such service that you can use.


A philanthropist is simply someone who practices philanthropy. This means donating to others to improve human welfare and advancement (in many cases, this means giving money, property, or work to people in need). Maybe the donation is to help a shelter for unhoused people, or to support an art museum that survives off of gifted contributions. Either way, the philanthropist is using their own resources to help someone (or something) else.


  • Her monthly donation of goods to the food bank makes her a true philanthropist.

A philanthropist doesn’t have to donate some grand amount of money. In fact, many adults in the US are prone to philanthropy: about 30 percent of the adult population volunteers their time and resources.


Some people may do nice things because it also benefits them. While there’s often nothing wrong with that—a good deed is a good deed, after all—there are others out there who are altruists, or people who are unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others.


  • Everyone in the town knew the man was an altruist after he jumped into the rushing river to help his neighbor’s drowning dog.

Both altruist and its opposite, egoist, come from the French. Unlike an altruist, an egoist is a selfish and arrogantly conceited person who, even when doing things for the greater good, may be driven by personal motivations.


Feeling altruistic? has teamed up with WWF to help you learn some key terms relating to elephants and how to be an advocate for their survival.


For anyone to be a philanthropist or an altruistic person, they have to have someone or something to give to. The word for that someone or something doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue as easily: eleemosynary, pronounced [ el-uhmosuh-ner-ee ], is an adjective that means provided by charity or dependent on charity.


  • The eleemosynary museum depends on a small number of billionaire philanthropists to keep the doors open and the artifacts in mint condition.

Eleemosynary dates back to the early 1600s and comes from a Latin word meaning “alms,” based on a Greek root meaning “pity, mercy.”

good Samaritan

A good Samaritan is someone who is compassionate and helps others in distress. It’s the type of person who spots someone on the side of the road in need of some help and gives it without a second thought. In fact, that example is where the phrase originally comes from. In the Gospel of Luke in the Christian New Testament of the Bible, there’s a parable about a Jewish man who was beaten and left to die on the side of the road. A person from Samaria (called a Samaritan) stopped and helped the man despite Samaritans and Jews historically having animosity for each other.


  • A good Samaritan spotted the man who had fallen off his bike and took him to the hospital.

Although the parable of the good Samaritan comes from the Bible, use of the phrase, as such, was first recorded in English in 1840–50.


When you’re looking to describe someone who shows goodwill toward others, the adjective you need is benevolent. The word refers to someone who gives aid instead of making a profit or personally benefiting—in other words, someone who is an altruist and not an egoist. The word comes from the Latin benevolēns, where bene means “well,” and velle means “to wish.”


  • The anonymous benevolent donor paid for the stranger’s medical bills after their surgery.

Benevolent is related to the word benefactor, in that the latter is a noun referring to someone who makes an endowment or who is kindly (benefactor comes from the Latin bene, or “well,” and factor, or “maker”). Benevolent has another related bene- word as well in beneficent, which is an adjective that means doing good or causing good to be done.


Many romanticize the life of the starving artist. Said artists don’t have to be poor, however, if the artist can find a patron. A patron is someone who supports an artist, writer, museum, or cause with money, gifts, or endorsements.


  • The millions that he donated to up-and-coming painters made him well known as a patron of the arts.

The word patron comes from the Latin for “legal protector, advocate,” ultimately from pater, the Latin word meaning and related to “father.” Its female counterpart is matron.


Expand your vocabulary with these exceptional alternatives for the word champion. You’re sure to win the linguistic gold with them.


Being called a do-gooder doesn’t inherently sound like a negative. We should all strive to, well, do good, right? The definition doesn’t exactly match, however. A do-gooder is a “well-intentioned but naive and often ineffectual social or political reformer.” The desire to help is there, in other words, but the execution is flawed. Consider the hobbits Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, who end up being more comic relief than actual help.


  • The mayor was elected due to a great plan to help the hungry, but his lack of experience made him more of a do-gooder than a reformer.

Do-gooder comes from do good, with the -er added to turn it into noun (gooder, of course, is not a standard word). The Americanism dates back to 1925–30.


A magnanimous person is someone who is good to always have around. The adjective means “free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness,” and is often used when talking about how a magnanimous person interacts with an enemy or someone who has less power.


  • The magnanimous politician helped her political rival pass legislation after the election despite the negative ads.

Magnanimous comes from Latin and literally translates to “great-souled,” where magnus means “great” and animus means “spirit, soul, mind.”


Charitable is an adjective that describes a generous gift to help other people or animals. Thought it comes from the word charity, charitable isn’t only used to describe something physical given to someone in need. It can also be used to describe a person who is kindly or lenient when it comes to judging others.

  • The woman made a charitable donation of dog toys to the no-kill shelter in her neighborhood.

In the US, public charities that are focused on charitable contributions to society make up the majority of non-profit organizations.


Bring some inspiration into your life and language with these words that go beyond common uplifting terms like hope and change.


An altruistic person might help someone else without seeking anything in return, but self-sacrifice takes things one step further. Self-sacrifice is a noun that means the “sacrifice of one’s interests, desires, etc., as for duty or the good of another.” Note that “duty” is there as well, meaning self-sacrifice could also be linked to taking up a job that requires one to give themself to the cause.


  • The firefighter knew he would be burned as he undertook an act of self-sacrifice to save the children from the building.

Self-sacrifice comes from sacrifice, which was historically used in religious contexts, where it means an offering of an animal, plant, material possession, or human life to a deity.


Being charitable is easy when you have a lot to give, and when doing so doesn’t necessarily impact your bottom line. Some are more generous, though. Munificent is an adjective to describe someone who is very generous and extremely liberal in their giving.


  • The munificent donation to school was far and above the amount of money alumni usually give.

Like many nouns and adjectives about humanitarians, munificent originally comes from Latin. The word was first recorded in English in 1565–75 and comes from the Latin mūnificentia, which means “generosity, bountifulness.”

With these generous adjectives and nouns in mind, you shouldn’t have any problem finding the right word this World Humanitarian Day. Just keep our word list handy and then test yourself on the definitions and meanings with our quiz.


When you’re ready to express your gratitude to someone who has had a positive impact on your life, review these tips for writing a thank you card to them.

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