New study: philanthropy education in Europe

My research on the emerging field of philanthropy education in Europe, written in collaboration with Prof Cathy Pharoah (City University/Cass) and Dr Tobias Jung (St Andrews University) has just been published and is accessible via this link

The research contains two main parts: the first part investigates the countries, institutions and disciplines in which philanthropy education currently takes place across Europe. The second explores perceptions of the development of the field drawn from interviews with philanthropy ‘stakeholders’. The report concludes with some critical reflections about the appropriate disciplinary settings for the study of philanthropy, the tension between fostering scholarship and developing skills and the potential ethical challenges of philanthropic investment in this area.

The research was conducted between October 2013 and July 2014 whilst a philanthropy practice research fellow at the Centre for Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) ar Cass Business School and visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS). It was and supported by a small ‘legacy’ grant from the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The research builds upon existing work but also raises new challenges and questions. Thus, I hope that it provides a platform for further reflection, study and criticism in the coming months. In that spirit, I look forward to comments from anyone interested in understanding more about this mercurial phenomenon known as philanthropy.

HE philanthropy – but not as you know it

Universities need to engage seriously with philanthropy as a subject of study, says Charles Keidan.

Which university raises the most money through donations? The answer is Stanford University, which generated over $1 billion in philanthropic contributions in 2012 alone. With hundreds of development staff, strong alumni relations and close links to the tech titans of northern California, it is hardly surprising that it lies at the epicentre of Silicon Valley generosity. Moreover philanthropy—the private contribution of resources for public purposes—is in the DNA of American life.

Its importance in Europe is harder to gauge. Vastly different histories, cultures and traditions across European states shape the context within which philanthropy is practised. This heterogeneity—as well as limitations of research and data—also makes it difficult to make pan-European predictions about philanthropy’s future. But as the capacity, and in some cases willingness, of European states to provide public services diminishes, the balance of power is shifting from state to private interests. This sets the stage for European philanthropy to assume an increasingly important role, one that deserves greater attention and scrutiny.

The retreat of the state has particularly significant implications for European universities, which are seeking private philanthropic resources on an unprecedented scale. In the UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England recently set an ambitious goal for British universities to raise £2 billion a year by 2022. This, as a recent report recognised, will necessitate a doubling of the fundraising workforce and major investments in recruitment, retention and skills of university-based development professionals, making fundraising a vocation—and a lucrative one for those who master the craft.

But the growing importance of philanthropy to contemporary society means that universities also need to engage seriously with philanthropy as a subject of study as well as a source of funds. Universities are well placed to critically examine and disseminate knowledge about philanthropy as a social phenomenon. Questions about the history, ethics and political philosophy of philanthropy are of particular interest to humanities and social sciences scholars; business and management scholars are more interested in understanding market-based solutions to social problems through models such as impact investment.

In the US, this effort is well underway in institutions from the impressive Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University, where I have spent the past few months as a visiting scholar, to the world’s first School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, which opened in 2013. Growing numbers of American college students are also acquiring practical skills through student philanthropy programmes.

The philanthropy research landscape in Europe is also growing. The European Research Network on Philanthropy, a pan-European collaboration, has played a catalytic role alongside eight dedicated academic centres of philanthropy, most of which have been established since 2000. These include two centres apiece in the UK and the Netherlands, with their thriving civil societies providing fertile settings for studying the subject.

Yet research I have conducted at the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, to be published in September, suggests that many people still perceive the study of philanthropy to be a lost cause. They argue that it lacks disciplinary roots and a clear and consistent definition, and that students appetite for courses on the subject is unproven. Meanwhile, vocationally oriented skills in grant-making and fundraising are still in their infancy, which is an issue of contention among some grant-making and fundraising practitioners. To overcome some of these challenges, a more holistic approach is needed.

First universities and research councils need to recognise the importance and legitimacy of philanthropy as a subject of study and invest in it. This should include supporting scholarship on philanthropy and associated doctoral programmes. Rene Bekkers, director of the Center for Philanthropic Studies at VU University Amsterdam, estimates that €5m is needed for a three-year comparative survey project on philanthropy in the EU.

Second private foundations need to become more aware of the importance and value of research into their field. Although some are willing to invest in academic research in general, few have contributed to producing academic knowledge on philanthropy itself. There are good reasons for this. Many philanthropists are action focused and understandably wary of investing in research that could be perceived as navel-gazing when pressing social problems exist. Others are concerned that research of this kind could raise awkward questions and increase scrutiny about their practices, such as the ratio of annual spending to the size of endowment. 

But none of these are reasons for inaction. At a time when public finances are stretched and greater reliance and expectations are placed on philanthropy, it is both timely and necessary to understand more about this powerful but mercurial phenomenon.

Charles Keidan is a philanthropy practice research fellow at the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy at City University London. This article originally appeared in Research Fortnight on 7th Sept 2014

The philanthropy of Israel studies

Philanthropy should come without ideological strings. My piece in Times Higher Education highlights how some philanthropists have mis-used Israel Studies for advocacy ends and suggests potential remedies

Gates comes to Stanford

Serious, Intense and Optimistic: Melinda Gates and Bill Gates gave Stanford’s commencement (graduation) speech in June 2014. It contained some powerful material but was marred by too many omissions. My piece for Alliance Philanthropy

On being a tugboat

The fall-out from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be felt well beyond the actual conflict zone dividing Jewish communities and damaging relations between Jews and Muslims. My piece for Alliance philanthropy offers contemporaneous reflections on the challenges, risks and rewards of philanthropic work in this area

Teaching about philanthropy

@Stanford philanthropy by Charles Keidan

Two days after arriving at Stanford University, I found my way to the School of Education by the clock tower at the heart of campus. As a visiting practitioner I was there to co-teach a course on ‘Theories of Civil Society, Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector’ with Bruce Sievers a Visiting Scholar and Lecturer and former head of the Walter and Elie Haas Fund.

Since its inception 11 years ago the course, offered by the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, has become a forerunner in the emerging field of philanthropy education. It combines historical and theoretical analysis of philanthropy, including the origins of modern European civil society, with experiential grant making. Remarkably, students receive $100,000 to distribute to local nonprofits from the Texas based ‘Once Upon a Time Foundation’.

Following nearly a decade leading the Pears Foundation in London the prospect of facing a classroom full of enquiring undergraduates, rather than hard-nosed fundraisers, on a sunny morning on the beautiful Stanford campus, was one of the more enjoyable culture shocks I have experienced.

What stood out?

Two things immediately caught my attention. First, the composition and previous experience of students were varied. The students were from a wide range of disciplines including political science, ethics and – curiously – human biology. Whilst this exemplifies the American college system it also symbolizes the amorphous and interdisciplinary nature of philanthropy. The debate about whether philanthropy is rooted in the arts or sciences, business or humanities and especially whether it is something to promote or study, are some of the big and unresolved questions in philanthropy education. At the Pears Foundation, I had grappled with them in the context of our Business Schools Partnership and the school based Youth and Philanthropy initiative.

Interestingly, all the students had previous engagement with the nonprofit sector: almost entirely as volunteers and fundraisers rather than donors. So for the students, the opportunity to assume the role of philanthropist proved paradigm shifting.

Second, I wondered whether giving students $100,000 to distribute to nonprofits was a good idea. Why? The process is fraught with hazard, both moral and practical, and required careful oversight. For example, donating large sums of money can confer significant power over a nonprofit, and the logistical challenges of creating a functional, student-driven grants process within a 10 week term are also significant. But, done carefully, such a programme can offer significant educational benefits. This programme works because it is based on three interlinking components: it is grounded in historical and theoretical texts about philanthropy; it is linked to reality through regular guest speakers, including the donor; and, perhaps the most important element, it is practical: the grant-making forced students to make real funding decisions based on philosophical reflection, utilitarian reasoning and opportunity cost. Each component runs alongside the other, thus increasing the potential to create a transformative pedagogical experience.

What about beyond the classroom?

My Stanford experience provided a remarkable window into the world of contemporary American philanthropy and in particular that of the philanthropists of Silicon Valley.

You do not have to look far to see their influence. Nearly every building on the Stanford campus is named after a donor, including many recognising the substantial contribution of the Arrillaga family. Notably, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, author of Philanthropy 2.0, is the founder and chair of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. Last year, Stanford University raised more money than any charity in the world, approximately $1 billion, and the imposing Arrillaga Alumni Center surely played a big part in that success.

The University’s endowment is almost $17 billion, second only to Harvard and Yale. Its board comprises philanthropic luminaries such as Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Gates Foundation. There is a two-way street as Stanford’s President sits on the board of Google whose founders also count among the university’s alumni and donors. It is not only the buildings, which are philanthropically funded, but so are the trees – palm trees actually, if the campus myths are to be believed.

So what are we to make of this white-hot cauldron of silicon philanthropy?

On one level, it provides a living embodiment of what the students learned on the course: the vibrant power of civil society, the Tocquevillian ideal of American associational life, geared towards generating public goods.

But is there another side? In recent years The New Yorker has devoted several major articles probing, some would say knocking, this West Coast phenomenon. Whilst this could be simply East versus West Coast rivalry, the criticism goes well past palm tree philanthropy to ask questions about whether the cult of hi-tech ‘solutionism’ – the belief that every problem has a technology based solution – and its application by philanthropists, can address intractable social issues. The New Yorker pieces deliver a sharp prick into the Silicon Valley bubble, and they were often discussed during my time at Stanford.

Alongside this critique, others battles are looming which may change the size and scope of the American nonprofit sector. Early in 2013, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which regulates and confers nonprofit status and lucrative tax benefits to 501(c)(3)’s and (c)(4)’s, was accused of political meddling in the way it determined nonprofit status. It is alleged to have rooted out, or at least subjected to greater scrutiny, those applicants with the words ‘tea party’ and ‘patriot’ in their titles. The backlash continues and a root and branch reform is ongoing that could have significant implications for the definition of the modern American nonprofit.

The Stanford campus proved to be a great vantage point onto the world of American philanthropy. And if that was not enough, back in the classroom, there was always plenty of grading. Having now returned to the UK, one clear lesson is the potential to develop philanthropy education in Europe. The beginnings have already been established with courses on philanthropy at Cass Business School, Kent University and SciencePo amongst others. My aspiration is to build on these initiatives to make high quality philanthropy education the norm rather than exception at universities across Europe.

This is an exciting challenge and one I hope to combine with further research on political theories of philanthropy, teaching and consulting. Over time, these efforts will broaden and deepen our understanding of this age old, but still mercurial, subject.