At Future Leaders of Philanthropy: To Grad School or Not to Grad School? The many commenters weigh an MBA, versus a Masters in Philanthropic Management or a specialization in a given issue area, like the environment or urban studies. As for the liberal arts, they did not even come up. No one suggested that a Masters in History, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Literature, or Languages might provide a relevant breadth of perspective, or depth of culture or discernment. Technical competence, not wisdom, is the path to advancement. And the less liberally educated the top people become the more they will hire more of the same.
In the ideal university where would philanthropy be taught?
- In the Philosophy Department, in Ethics
- In Literature, with an anthology like Amy Kass's, Giving Well, Doing Good
- In the Classics Department so as to work in Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca
- In Psychology, studying manners, mores, concepts of happiness, the impulse to altruism
- In Sociology, with an emphasis on the formation of social capital and public goods
- In History, studying the relations of social classes, private giving, and government policies
- In Political Science, studying the interplay of wealth, power, law, privilege, and giving
- In World Religions, tracing giving as a virtue or obligation in various religious traditions
- In Law, studying the law of nonprofits and of taxation
- In Finance, studying personal and corporate finance, and the treatment of gifts
- In Business, studying nonprofits as pseudo-businesses to be run within a social capital market.
#9- #11 seem the obvious choices to the Flip commenters. Yet, among the top consultants to wealthy families in philanthropy, you will most often find odd hybrids: Doctorate of Divinity, followed by a law degree; a Masters in Philosophy followed by practical experience in business; Masters of Divinity followed by experience as a fundraiser; Masters in Psychology followed by clinical practice, culminating in working with multi-generational dynastic families; Princeton in the liberal arts, then a law degree and a lifetime of compulsive reading in history, religion and philosophy, culminating in becoming the trusted advisor to several of the world's wealthiest families; folk law, mythology, and literature at Harvard and Stanford culminating in advising the Rockefellers and their friends. These are the backgrounds of people I know, working with the ultra-wealthy. Most of the best are trained in at least one of the humanities, and then somehow landed amidst law, finance. fundraising, nonprofit management, or business. But the underlying training in the humanities is essential if you are to ask the larger questions of meaning and purpose. The more money and power a client or donor has the more urgent it becomes to ask, "What kind of person do you want to be? In what kind of world? Leaving what legacy?" The mean technical trades provide no purchase on the questions of purpose. Some earnest shmuck with an MBA or law degree can always be found when the conversation gets from Why? to How? (So say I with degrees in philosophy, psychology, literature and finance, holding forth from a Dumpster. Wisdom is a Fool's game. Knowing what I know now I would have become a veterenarian. The rich take better care of their pets than of the poor. But it is their money; we as experts are here but to serve.)
Kudos to you for making this point. I had the same reaction to that discussion. I would expand your point, however, and argue that anyone working in the philanthropic world (including those working as staff of nonprofits) would do well with some measure of liberal education about philanthropy, even if not a completed graduate degree (one can get a nice liberal education on the way to an MBA, if one tries hard enough). This is important not just for those advising the wealthy. Everyone who has made the choice to pursue their vocation or avocation in the nonprofit world needs to be equipped with the ability to reflect on the fundamental mission and meaning of that world. Liberal education prepares nonprofit leaders to understand why philanthropy plays the role it does in society, and to discuss in an open-minded way why it should. This is particularly important at a time when philanthropic actors (of all sorts) and nonprofit organizations are being challenged to justify their existence (and their tax exemptions) more and more.
Posted by: Michael Moody | January 23, 2008 at 01:35 AM
Let me just add that a liberal education in "philanthropic studies" was precisely the vision that Robert Payton and others had when they founded the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana U. Several of Payton's former students (me included) recently put together a festschrift in his honor, reflecting on how this sort of education influenced our later work (in philanthropy and elsewhere). I'll send you a copy if you want...
Posted by: Michael Moody | January 23, 2008 at 01:40 AM
Sound like a wonderful teacher, Michael.
Seems to me that the Liberal education should be squared off with integral studies of science, mathematics and technology. Neither is complete without the other.
Posted by: Gerry | January 23, 2008 at 06:40 AM
Definitely agree with Gerry. Philanthropy without all dimensions of the human will inevitably not be humane. After that, the deluge.
On this subject I can't resist adding another fave quote from Marshall McLuhan:
"Only the traditionalist can be radical."
Posted by: Jeff Trexler | January 23, 2008 at 09:42 AM
In a perfect world I don't see philanthropy as being within any one of those disciplines. Seems to me that we need people from all of those areas and we need them to respect the knowledge of the other fields rather than thinking the the knowledge they have is the most important.
Posted by: Sean Stannard-Stockton | January 23, 2008 at 10:29 AM
Michael, thank you for your thoughtful and informed response. Yes, I would appreciate getting a copy of the Fetschrift for Robert Payton. I will email you my contact info. Thanks.
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 10:48 AM
Mr. Trexler, you operate on another level altogether. Just spent 30 minutes absorbing your Mcluan text. Stunning. I had not realized he had that classical background. The essay sheds so much light on so many subjects. (Swift's sermon oratory, for example, and his theory of oratory, as plain speech plainly expressing a plain true doctrine, as opposed to the wild helter skelter speech of his anology mad scribblers and dunces.) I wonder where Derrida would fit in the McLuan worldview? A kindred spirit or not?
The Ciceronian ideal of eloquence in an active life of wisdom and civic virtue - does that consort with the idea that eloquence is indeed not like cooking (as Aristotle dismissively said), but like medicine? Full speech, true eloquence, is not to be just true as opposed to false, but curative, helping us be better people in a better world?
Here for those who don't click Jeff's link is a quick snip from McLuan: "The trouble with a cheap, specialised education is that you never stop paying for it." "The specialist is one who never makes small mistakes while moving toward the grand fallacy." I have to say that most of what passes for "tactical" or "strategic" philanthropy would rightly cringe at these words.
"Social Capital Markets" - what is that in practice but a series of small mistakes ("tactics," "metrics," "social investments," etc.) moving towards a grand fallacy. Worse yet, what are social capital markets, but a wild analogy masquerading as logic and fact? Maybe it being poetry afterall, but bad poetry is the revenge of Cicero and Nashe on the MBA mind? Disdaining good poetry they produce bad poetry and call it a market.
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 11:42 AM
Sean, yes, knowledge, tact, skill, grace, wisdom, eloquence, inspiration, virtue, eloquence - so much more to philanthropy that can fit neatly into the section headings of the business plan, from vision, to goals and objectives, to strategies, tactics, metrics and budgets and timelines. Yet without a plan, the inspired giver may accomplish little. When a person embraces both the liberal arts and the arts of management, the result is not a whole person, but a ravig lunatic. That seems to be the gist in its own way of the McLuan text: these traditions have warred with one another since before words were written down. Those who learn both are riven, rather than. (I am, for sure.)
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 11:53 AM
If we had philanthropic work on the Ciceronian model, that of the active, wise, virtuous citizen, that of the leader, the inspired and eloquent leader, how would that consort with social capital markets, the legal trades, and the trades of financial professionals? In your thinking about this field, how do the two traditions (that of poetry and planning, or wisdom and mechanical efficiency, or metaphor and logic, or wisdom and techne) come together or war with one another?
The practical syllogism with End, Means, Action is Aristotle's way. Quite neat and clean, but in practice the discourse and mindset around the Major Premise (the inspiring ends in view for self, family, society) and the discourse around Means (flat, cold, dry analytical, often legalistic and persnicketty) seem drawn from distinct worldviews and canons. More like Jekyll and Hyde or a rebus, like the duck rabbit, rather than a nice neat Aristotelian progression from ends to means to action. (The Aristotelian logic drives the business plan, the estate plan, the philanthropic plan, but from a Ciceronian perspective the whole document may be dead, inert, mechanical, uninspired, with the "vision" little more than hype and vacuity.)
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 12:01 PM
I'd like to wade in on this one. I'm a thirty-something with a liberal arts degree (English major, journalism minor) currently pursuing my MBA. I specifically chose the MBA over the MPA because it would offer balance to my overall education. For me, an MPA felt like more liberal education. But that's just me.
One of my original goals was to bring some of the perceived marketing savvy of the business world to non-profits. But, after delving into this further along this journey, it appears non-profits are actually more adept at change in embracing Web 2.0 techniques than most major corporations.
Besides one class devoted entirely to ethics and corporate social responsibility; every other class in the program devotes at least one 3-hr session to ethics as it relates to the course material.
Corporate philanthropy and giving is debated frequently as it relates to traditional vs. stakeholder theory; but individual philanthropy has never been a topic. I would argue that philanthropy needs to be part of every class just as ethics is a part of our curriculum.
The big debate about corporate philanthropy has been under which department it falls under? Executive? Marketing? PR? Corp Governance?
Some "general" observations based on the requisite group projects in most classes - those with undergrad degrees in accounting and finance struggle with the "whys" but excel at the "hows". I also share classes with pharmacy/MBA double majors - these students tend to focus on memorization of materials over interpretation.
Posted by: J. Erik Potter | January 23, 2008 at 02:09 PM
I personally have a undergraduate degree from a small Liberal Arts college, in history, government and religion. A Liberal Arts foundation that I feel has given me an exceptional foundation for future success.
My question is, what is important for the next level of specialization? MBA, MPA, Certificate in Nonprofit Management, or field specific Master's program.
Posted by: J. Strang | January 23, 2008 at 02:53 PM
Thanks for the lived insights from within your MBA program. Good to see that ethics are now much discussed. I wonder if knowing about ethics is likely to translate into ethical practice. Interesting that philanthropy is hard to place in the curriculum. In a way it may seem economically irrational, an aberration from economic rationality. I wonder if the theoretical or philosophical foundations are in place in an MBA program to ground a discussion of "the good life," of "human flourishing," of "civic virtue," of "the proper uses of riches." I had to smile as you discuss the learning styles of your classmates. I teach adults, some as old as 70, in a business (sales and marketing) setting. For most in business "means" are easier to learn than "touchy feely stuff" about ends in view. Likewise,rote learning comes faster to most than does Socratic conversation. "I mean, where is the sale here?"
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 07:18 PM
What motivates you? What is it that you want to accomplish with your career? Do you think in terms of social impact? Making a certain income? Leadership of an organization? Impact across the sectors for a larger purpose? Speaking as a loser, I can say that I treasure the liberal arts foundational skills, they are always useful, since they ground open ended conversation about what others are trying to accomplish. Connecting on that level is surprisingly rare. Whether you are in sales, marketing, management, counseling, consulting, those skills are key. Then, though, you also need some practical world within which to apply the skills, some core competence and range of mastery as well as practical wisdom. Since I don't have either the MBA or MPA, I can't give you any substantive input there.
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 07:24 PM
Haven't read the comments yet .. I would say as a cross-disciplinary subject with the principles of each of the disciplines you have listed as cameo characters, with first among equals being the Humanities.
Now to the comments ...
Posted by: JJ Commoner | January 23, 2008 at 09:10 PM
Now I have .. read the comments, that is.
McLuhan is da man, IMO.
The relatively recent book "McLuhan For Managers - New Tools For New Thinking" would be useful in a philanthropy-oriented curriculum. It was written by two of his proteges (de Kerckhove and Federman) who are involved with the University of Toronto's McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology.
Posted by: JJ Commoner | January 23, 2008 at 09:15 PM
I had not realized how steeped in the history of ideas McLuan was. The essay linked by Jeff above was staggering. McLuan privileged the Dark Ages over the Renaissance? You have got to admire a man who could reverse commonsense like that.
Posted by: phil | January 23, 2008 at 10:18 PM
Phil, re your question on the tension between traditions, I see the best approach to be one that recognizes each as a dimension of the other. As to how, I'm be writing more about that now--to be continued outside this comment thread!
Posted by: Jeff Trexler | January 28, 2008 at 08:23 PM
As another student of Robert Payton, i have to say it was a joy to read your post, and then to see - of all people - Michael Moody as the first commentator in response.
Michael and some of the other Payton seminar alums produced a beautiful testiment to the power of liberal education in philanthropy. I just also wanted to put in a plug for www.PaytonPapers.org, an online archive of Mr. Payton's essays, and his now out-of-print book on philanthropy.
Another quick thought: how you define "philanthropy" helps to create the answer to your question, what type of education is appropriate for philanthropy.
If you define it as transactional - a sort of generic business process that results in a contract of giving and raising dollars, then skills training may seem like the answer. If you define philanthropy as something broader, deeper, and with the potential to be transformative (for good and ill) than a broader, deeper and more transformative education is needed to support and inform philanthropy.
Posted by: Rusty Stahl | February 08, 2008 at 11:23 AM
Thank you, Rusty, great to have you commenting here. I know of your work, but did not know of your Payton connection. I have read collection of papers for Payton. Michael Moody sent it to me. And I am working through the Payton Papers online. Philanthropy is a virtue. Perhaps giving is an obligation. But giving is certainly a virtue. To promote tranactions as a business process is the how of it, maybe, but the why of it is rooted in our religious, literary, ethical, civic, and patriotic traditions. Thank you for lending your voice and your life work to this ancient and as yet still living tradition.
Posted by: phil | February 08, 2008 at 12:32 PM