From his very first paycheck, Rockefeller tithed ten percent of his earnings to his church. As his wealth grew, so did his giving, primarily to educational and public health causes, but also for basic science and the arts. In 1884, he provided major funding for a college in Atlanta for black women, that became Spelman College
Rockefeller gave $80 million to the University of Chicago under William Rainey Harper, turning a small Baptist College into a world-class institution by 1900. His General Education Board, founded in 1902, was established to promote education at all levels everywhere in the country. It was especially active in supporting black schools in the South. Its most dramatic impact came funding the recommendations of the Flexner Report of 1910 (which had been funded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; it revolutionized the study of medicine in the United States
Despite his personal preference for homeopathy, Rockefeller, on Gates's advice, became one of the first great benefactors of medical science. In 1901, he founded the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City. It changed its name to Rockefeller University in 1965, after expanding its mission to include graduate education. It claims a connection to 23 Nobel laureates. He founded the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission in 1909, an organization that eventually eradicated the hookworm disease that had long plagued the South. The Rockefeller Foundation was created in 1913 to continue and expand the scope the work of the Sanitary Commission, which was closed in 1915. He gave nearly $250 million to the Foundation, which focused on public health, medical training, and the arts. It endowed Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the first of its kind. It built the Peking Union Medical College into a great institution; it helped in war relief, 1914-16; it employed William Lyons Mackenzie King of Canada to study industrial relations. Rockefeller's fourth main philanthropy, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation, created in 1918, supported work in the social studies; it was later absorbed in the Rockefeller Foundation. All told, Rockefeller gave away about $550 million.
Oddly enough, Rockefeller was probably best known in his later life for the practice of giving a dime to children wherever he went. He even gave dimes as a playful gesture to men like tire mogul Harvey Firestone and President Hoover. During The Great Depression, Rockefeller switched to giving nickels instead of dimes.