Philanthropy emerging as focus of academic study

Academic scholarship and teaching on philanthropy are thin but emerging, with much of it geared to the business of raising money and giving it away, and with the potential to cause conflicts between its funders and those who study them, a British philanthropy scholar and practitioner says.

In Europe, university-based centers’ courses and training “are not keeping pace with the growth in the scale and prominence of philanthropy in recent years,” Charles Keidan, a philanthropy practice research fellow at the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy at Cass Business School at City University in London, writes in an article in Times Higher Education.

Growth outpaces scholarship

Between 2006-08 and 2011-12, giving to universities in Britain grew to 693 million British pounds, or $1.2 billion, from 513 million British pounds, or $822 million, and is expected to grow to 2 billion British pounds, or $3.21 billion, by 2022, Keidan writes in “Why philanthropy merits scholarly study.”

Yet across European universities, the article says, there are only 20 individual courses on philanthropy or with philanthropy as a core component.

Gain in visibility

It also see signs that philanthropy and charitable foundations, which it characterizes as philanthropy’s “handmaiden,” are “finally achieving global academic visibility.”

It cites the world’s first school of philanthropy, which Indiana University opened in 2013, and the fact that Europe is now home to eight dedicated academic centers of philanthropy and two chairs, most of which were created after 2000.

Still, consensus among scholars is lacking “about what should be studied or taught,” the article says.

“As an interdisciplinary phenomenon, philanthropy inevitably lends itself to — but also requires — expertise from a range of disciplines,” it says.

That creates a “potentially rich and vast research agenda,” and multiple disciplines have the potential to provide “important empirical insights,” it says.


But that “diffusion” among multiple disciplines “also creates complexity.”

Those complex issues, which seem “equally unresolved in the U.S.,” the article says, include questions about how the field will develop from a fragmented base; whether there is sufficient “critical mass” of scholarship, peer-reviewed journals and student demand; and how the “seemingly endless variety of research questions, approaches and methods will “coalesce.”

The article also says its research indicates “university leaderships are lukewarm to the development of a knowledge base about philanthropy,” and it cites an “unresolved tension between the two distinct thrusts” of philanthropy education.

“Alongside the urge to reflect on the related normative and abstract questions, there is the issue of teaching the coming generations of philanthropists, foundation professionals and fundraisers about how to distribute or raise funds,” the article says.

“The lack of skills-based techniques and training is a cause of frustration among some donors and practitioners.”

Chasing philanthropic dollars

Research for the article “uncovered signs of a renewed openness to philanthropy education among research-focused foundations, and found the “appetite” for philanthropic income is “naturally piquing an interest in philanthropy among some university leaders.”

But such “instrumentalization” of philanthropy education presents some dangers, the article says.

It could “narrow the scope of scholarly inquiry, gearing it towards research on stimulating giving or towards master’s-type courses with a more vocational and craft-based bent,” it says, adding its research suggests that might be happening in Europe, where most current courses on philanthropy — 13 of 20 — are post-graduate courses.

And funding of university-based philanthropy education by philanthropists and foundations creates the potential for conflicts of interest “on both sides,” the article says,

“Philanthropic backing may be motivated by a desire to promote philanthropy as well as study it,” it says. “This could push funding towards disciplinary settings broadly sympathetic to philanthropy (such as business and management) and away from those asking more critical questions (such as ethics or political theory).”

Possible conflicts for universities

Universities also could “find themselves conflicted between, on the one hand, welcoming philanthropists and seeking philanthropic funds for a range of causes and, on the other, supporting rigorous academic scholarship about philanthropy,” the article says.

Universities “might become sensitive to scholarship that asks critical questions — especially of the particular philanthropists who support them.”

In the U.S., where philanthropic income represents an even bigger share of university budgets, it says, “it is not unknown for scholars whose research raises awkward questions about philanthropy to be cautioned against biting the hand that feeds them.”

Recommended solution

The ideal approach, the article says, is for funding for philanthropy studies to come mainly from “statutory research councils, channelled into existing disciplinary settings.”

Philanthropic support “should be cautiously welcomed, but background correspondence and funding agreements between donors, university leaderships and academics should be made public to reduce real or perceived conflicts,” it says.

“Philanthropy’s imprint on the fabric of university life is just emerging,” the article concludes. “As its profile rises, we should expect some celebration of its contribution to higher education — but we are also entitled to demand more rigorous and robust scholarship about its role in society.”

Todd Cohen

Brookstone Schools aims to grow

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At Brookstone Schools, where 87 percent of the 105 students qualify for free or reduced lunch, many of the students also are performing well above grade level in reading and math.

Serving low-income kids from throughout Charlotte, the Christian school is part of a broader effort to boost academic performance at underperforming schools in low-income West Charlotte.

Growing steadily since it was founded in 2001, Brookstone Schools now has moved into a larger building and added a summer program, and is considering a campaign to raise capital and endowment funds to help it add two more grades and possibly a residential program.

Founded with 18 children in kindergarten and first grade, Brookstone Schools has added additional grades as it recruited new students, including a sixth grade this school year.

The school operates with an annual budget of $740,000 and 13 employees working full-time and four working part-time, and generates seven percent of its funds from student tuition and fees.

Contributions from individuals account for 48 percent of its funding, along with 39 percent from foundations, 8 percent from corporations, and 5 percent in church support.

That funding includes $2,500 sponsorships from individuals and organizations to support each of 88 students for a year.

Brookstone Schools also received a big boost from Carolina School for Children, a 10-year effort to create a faith-based residential school for children in need modeled on the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania.

Last year, however, the organizers opted to contributed to Brookstone Schools the roughly $250,000 they had raised.

That gift could serve as seed funding for a campaign to raise endowment and capital funds to support expansion, says Suzanne Wilson, director of development.

And at its annual fundraising dinner March 22, Brookstone Schools raised over $98,000, giving it a big boost to match a $125,000 dollar-for-dollar challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation, which offered a challenge grant for the third straight year.

While planning for a campaign still is in the early stages, Wilson says, the goal could range from $4 million to $5 million.

After spending its first 10 years in space leased from a series of churches, the school in December moved into the Amay James Pre-K Center, which had been a public school but was closed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Located in the Reid Park neighborhood, the school is near the Stratford-Richardson YMCA in a region that is the focus of Project L.I.F.T., an effort supported by a coalition of foundations that supports nine elementary and middle schools that feed into West Charlotte High School.

The region also is the focus of the Reid Park Collaborative Initiative, a partnership of Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Council for Children’s Rights and other human-services agencies that provide support services for students and families of Reid Park Academy, a public high school adjacent to Brookstone Schools.

Partners who support students in Brookstone Schools participate in special events throughout the school year when they can spend time with students in hands-on activities and tutoring in the classroom.

And nearly every child has an adult “lunch buddy” who eats lunch with them at least twice a month.

With its building, which it is leasing for five years from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the school also is considering subletting some of that space to a group that serves the neighborhood.

Brookstone Schools last year launched a six-week summer program that drew roughly 50 new and existing students, and it plans to continue the program this summer, expecting about 80 students.

All the efforts seem to be working: In general, Wilson says, 35 percent of Brookstone students taking the Stanford Achievement Test are scoring among the top 25 percent of U.S. students in math and reading.

“Our goal,” Wilson says, “is to equip students to get a taste early on for academic success.”