What Office of the Registrar, 2015 a). To

What is Philanthropic
Studies? Why Study It?

Over the past century the
field of Philanthropic Studies has been steadily growing and changing as, with
authorities including Merle Curti, Peter Dobkin Hall, Robert L. Payton, Michael
P. Moody, and most recently, Richard C. Turner studying and analyzing its
defined role within the pedagogical system. With arguments for the study of
philanthropy ranging from Curti’s ” perceived lens ” through which to view the
development of American society to the manifestation of Robert Payton’s
“voluntary action for the public good,” classifications have evolved over time
(Curti, 1957; Payton & Moody, 2008, 6). However, in the 21st century, Philanthropic
Studies has been established as a formalized field of study, which students can
pursue at the undergraduate and graduate level. Graduates are now emerging into
the workforce with degrees in Philanthropic Studies, leading nonprofit
organizations, foundations, and even entering the private sector through the
recent increased focus on corporate social responsibility. Philanthropic
Studies has arguably established itself as a field, but the question remains,
what exactly is Philanthropic Studies, and why should it be
studied? Philanthropic Studies should be respected as an academic discipline
because it is a significantly studied and proven force for positive change that
equips students with the historical, technical, and visionary skills to bring
real value to the philanthropic community.

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Philanthropic Studies, as
defined by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is 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).
To a student of Philanthropic Studies, this characterization most effectively
defines the field and encompasses its many components.

Defining Philanthropic
Studies offers an understanding of its many facets, but the rationale for its
existence as a field must be evaluated to complete the puzzle. It is through
this process that Merle Curti’s argument comes into play. In his 1957 essay,
“The History of American Philanthropy as a Field of Research,” Curti
establishes the evolutionary nature of philanthropy and its role as a lens
through which to view both the development of the United States as a nation,
and arguably the development of nations across the globe (Curti, 1957). In
support of Curti’s argument, Philanthropic Studies is required to garner a
complete understanding of the development of civic societies over time.
Philanthropic Studies can answer the questions of what has sparked social
transformation and change in communities, how that change was achieved, and how
it is currently being sustained through gifts of time, talent, and treasure.
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, 2085).

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









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

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.