What studied? The field of Philanthropic Studies

What is Philanthropic
Studies? Why Study It?

Over the past century the
field of Philanthropic Studies has been steadily growing and changing as more
and more people have begun to analyze and study its’ many facets pertaining to
the education system and everyday life. Some who analyzed philanthropy even argued
for it to be studied more closely and at a greater length. Those who pushed for
this further inquiry into philanthropy ranged from Merle Curti, and his notion
that to better understand the development of American society one needs to look
at the past through the lens of philanthropy, to the later work Robert Payton
who coined one of the most commonly recognized meaning of philanthropy today “voluntary
action for the public good,” (Payton & Moody, 2008, 6). Today however,
thanks to the though who came choose to investigate more over the years, Philanthropic
Studies is now recognized as a formalized field of study. This is the first
generation of students who will be graduating and enter into the workforce with
a degree in Philanthropic Studies. Though Philanthropic Studies recently
established itself as a field the question still remains, what exactly is Philanthropic Studies, and why should it be studied? The
field of Philanthropic Studies should be studied because it enables students to
acquire the historical, practical, and critical thinking skills to better
understand the social and civil problems of the world.

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The Indiana University Lilly
Family School of Philanthropy defines Philanthropic studies as a theoretical
approach to the study of volunteering and charitable giving throughout history
and the technical, philosophical, and ethical roles of nonprofit organizations
within society (IUPUI Office of the Registrar, 2015 a). By having this
definition of Philanthropic Studies one can better understand its many aspects,
though is that definition enough to warrant an understanding of why it should
be a field of research? Merle Curtli in his 1957 essay, “The History of
American Philanthropy as a Field of Research,” attempts to shed light onto this
question by establishing that one can better understand the development of the
United States as a nation through the lens of philanthropy, and its ever
evolving nature (Curti, 1957). To agree with Curit, Philanthropic Studies is
necessary to the understanding of how civil societies develop over time. With
the aid of Philanthropic Studies questions such as what has caused social changes
in communities, how have these changes occurred, and what time, talent, or
gifts are currently being used to sustain this change. Giving is a part of the
fabric of American society, and understanding why i t holds such a prominent
position in American culture is valuable to those attempting to understand the
practices that define the United States and also those who fundraise for
specific causes.

Philanthropic Studies
additionally allows for the expression of “voluntary action for the public
good,” Robert Payton’s widely recognized definition of philanthropy (Payton
& Moody, 2008). Voluntary action supports social services in the United
States, champions arts and culture, encourages civic engagement, and con serves
the environment. Philanthropic Studies merges expressive action with
instrumental action, allowing its students to transform their inn ate interest
s, passions, and causes in to voluntary pursuits to achieve a public good.

While philanthropy may identify certain categories of actions taken by society,
Philanthropic Studies is the study of what drives individuals to act philanthropically
and how they can be further encouraged to be forces of positive change within
their communities.

Why is the ability to enact
positive change important? Women’s suffrage was spurred by the movement of
people who saw an inequality and were determined to bring about change. The
Civil Rights Movement was fueled by a passion to end centuries of
discrimination and persecution within the United States. Philanthropic Studies
matters because it equips individuals with the tools required to engage,
enlighten, and empower others. It prepares one to engage others in a mission,
enlighten them on why that mission is important to the advancement of the
public good, and empower s them to go out into the world and make the change
that they deem necessary.

Philanthropic Studies should
be studied because it is a force of both individual and social change. The
discipline is not about foisting one’s personal opinions upon society, but
rather the evaluation of social justice issues and environmental challenges;
discovery of root sources of problems; and determination of appropriate methods
by which a group or organization can most effectively bring about positive
transformation. Philanthropic Studies is backed by research, analysis, and
careful examination. It involves discussion and deliberation, use of best
practices, and change when the nature of the sector changes. As Richard C.

Turner argues, ” Philanthropic Studies seeks to reflect on its subject as well
as see its work carried forward into action in the world ” ( 2004, 2084) .

Philanthropic Studies should be studied because it takes the charitable sector
and evaluates its actions under the criteria of historical successes and
failures, accepted practices and procedures, and ethics and values of the
sector, and then determines the most appropriate and effective actions after
careful consideration.

As a student preparing to graduate with a degree
in Philanthropic Studies and embark on my own journey to create positive change
in the world, acknowledging the skills, knowledge, and abilities I have
developed directly as a result of my major has never been more crucial . The

Indiana University Lilly Family
School of Philanthropy identifies six learning outcomes of students pursuing a
Bachelor’s Degree in Philanthropic Studies, including achieving an
understanding of philanthropic traditions in society, the ethics, values, norms,
and motivations in philanthropy, and the role of nonprofit organizations in
society, while utilizing communication skills effectively for varied audiences,
interpersonal skills to address issues, and ultimately articulating
philanthropic values, civic identity, and strategies for increasing capacity to
take action ( IUPUI Office of the Registrar, 2015b). Through the mastery of these
outcomes, students are able to develop the technical knowledge, communication
skills, and personal mission that will drive them in their philanthropic

In the last semester of my
undergraduate career, I can strongly justify my fulfillment of these identified
learning outcomes. Philanthropic Studies is critical for a comprehensive
understanding of the development of societies across the globe, and through the
study of the historical contexts of philanthropy in the United States and the
work of social entrepreneurs throughout the world , I have come to understand
its importance in giving people a voice, creating social change, and developing
functioning societies. Gaining a technical understanding of the inner workings
of nonprofit organizations has prepared me to be a leader i n my work,
regardless of my title, while taking the time to develop my own set of personal
and professional ethics and applying them to those of nonprofit organizations
has allowed me to understand the increased effectiveness of working for an
organization whose values match one’s own.

From a communications
standpoint, through an internship with Feeding America and work with the IU
Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Academic Programs department, I have
honed my ability to present the complex topic of Philanthropic Studies and its
importance to various audiences, all while developing my own philanthropic
autobiography and mission. As a student emerging from a Philanthropic Studies
program, the learning outcomes established by the School of Philanthropy truly
have been accomplished through the various coursework, discussions, and
readings completed by students.

While the learning outcomes defined
by the School of Philanthropy compose a significant portion of the abilities I
have developed as a student, certain, less tangible skills have also surfaced
through my education. My ability to think critically about situations and
conflicts has been challenged through various assignments, group projects, and
work experience. Analyzing nonprofit organizations and their historical
successes and failures has allowed me to learn from real – world experiences
and taught me not to take circumstances solely at face value. Through the
advancement of my communication skills through media such as conference and class
presentations and writing assignments, my confidence in both myself and my work
has developed, allowing me to refine leadership skills that will come into play
as I prepare to enter graduate school and the workforce. Turner supports self –
growth and inquisitiveness as a benefit of Philanthropic Studies, further
claiming that ” the nature of the area studied…, knowing oneself enough to be
in a position to gather with others to do good for others , suggests that…
inquiries will lead to applications, new questions and answers, and improved
practices in the world; in short, making the world a better place” (2004,

While it is a relatively new and evolving field,
Philanthropic Studies brings a unique element to the academic world. It
encompasses an entire sector of society, is incorporated into the others, and
is central to the development of communities across the globe. Philanthropic
studies merges scientific research and communication, philosophies and
theories, and motivations and action. Its study will ensure that progress is
brought about in the most respectful, productive, and appropriate of ways.

Philanthropic Studies has expanded my outlook on the world in ways I never
could have imagined, allowing me to personally connect the history and theoretical
perspectives of the philanthropic sector with the technicalities of nonprofit
management, while advancing my interpersonal and communication skills.

Philanthropic Studies has helped define me as an individual and a professional,
and will allow me to embody its identity as a positive force of change.









Curti, M. (1957). The history of American
philanthropy as a field of r esearch. The American Historical Review, 62 (2),
352 – 363.

IUPUI Office of the Registrar. (2015 a ).

Bachelor of arts degree in philanthropic s tudies. Retrieved February 19, 2017,

http://bulletins.iu.edu/iupui/2014 –
2016/schools/ph ilanthropy/undergraduate/b.a..shtml


IUPUI Office of the Registrar. (2015 b ).

Student learning outcomes . Retrieved February 19, 2017, from

http://bulletins.iu.edu/iupui/2014 –
2016/schools/philanthropy/undergraduate/student – learning – outcomes.shtml


Payton, R. L, & Moody, M. P . (2008). Understanding
philanthropy : its meaning and mission. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Turner, R. C. (2004). Philanthropic Studies as a
central and centering discipline in the humanities. International Journal of
the Humanities, 2 (3), 2083 – 2086. Retrieved March 19, 2017.


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