And giving has also become something of a curious competition within the entertainment community, with A-listers such as Brad and Angelina and Bono making very public displays of activism and donating large amounts of their personal fortunes to worthy causes. The extent to which the music business has embraced giving was reflected in a new category at the MTV awards: the “quadruple threat award,” whose nominees must “have conquered multiple worlds including music, fashion, business, acting, dance, and philanthropy.”

“The true status symbol of the rich these days is philanthropy,” Frank says. “But with so many rich people it takes a lot more to get noticed. There’s a constant ratcheting-up of how much people are giving and constant competition over results. Anyone can give $100 million these days. The question is, ‘What disease have you cured?’”

Philanthropy isn’t just a fad for the rich; it’s also a growing obsession among those who want to be rich. Michael Kim would like to start his own foundation when he has the funds. Still, as a partner in a venture-capital firm in San Francisco, Kim, 39, earns enough to make quite a few contributions. He currently sits on advisory committees or boards of various organizations. Joseph Miller, 24, is the executive vice president of the Society of Young Philanthropists, a Los Angeles group of people in their 20s and 30s that pools donations to create an investment portfolio for emerging charities. Kim and Miller both say they give many hours a week to charity work and so do many of their friends.

“Most of the people I know are involved,” Kim says. “People see it as a way to have a blast, do some networking, learn new skills, and help others.” Belsky agrees: “The younger philanthropists today see their charitable work as a way to get ahead. Philanthropy is part of our personal and career development.”

Since the 19th century, when the likes of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan competed to give away their fortunes, philanthropy has been dominated by inheritors of wealth. Today there’s still plenty of inherited money, but the people driving modern philanthropy are the 21st-century robber barons: the technology gazillionaires of San Francisco and the hedge-fund wunderkinder of Wall Street. They model themselves on grand-scale givers like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Dell, and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. The budding new philanthropists hope to run into these stars, along with Bono and Bill Clinton, at exclusive brainiac conferences, such as the TED Conference in Monterey, California.

If the new philanthropists don’t find the information they need at a conference, they can hire some of the burgeoning number of philanthropy coaches, advisers, and gurus. Merrill Lynch now has a Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Management, which helps people integrate giving into their financial planning. It’s a heady new world of wealth, but the bottom line is, if you aren’t giving it away, you’re a nobody. “When you make your money, the next thing you are thinking about is ‘What’s my cause?’” says Rob Davis, founder of Hedgefundscare, a charity that combats child abuse. “I’d venture that more than half of the people who have hedge funds have set up foundations.”