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January 22, 2008


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Michael Moody

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.

Michael Moody

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...


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.

Jeff Trexler

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."

Sean Stannard-Stockton

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.


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.


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.


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.)



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.)

J. Erik Potter

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.

J. Strang

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.


J. Erik,

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?"


J. Strang,

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.

JJ Commoner

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 ...

JJ Commoner

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.


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.

Jeff Trexler

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!

Rusty Stahl


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.

Epiphanies Blog


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.

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