You don’t need to be a billionaire like Bill Gates, or even a billionaire genius playboy like Tony Stark to be a philanthropist. According to Richard Marker, it has become easier then ever before for those with limited financial resources to make a difference.
Of course, that’s not to say it has become easy. To be a philanthropist you need a strategy, and the drive to pursue it. It’s not the same as charity, and it’s not about giving handouts. At the root of philanthropy is the old adage that giving a man a fish can feed him for a day, but teaching him to fish can feed him for a lifetime.
For the love of humanity
The term philanthropy means “love of humanity”, and is believed to have originated in the classical era, when Socrates claimed that the free giving of his thoughts to the people was ‘philanthrôpía’.
Also according to Wikipedia, the Philosophic Dictionary of the Platonic Academy defined philanthropy as “well educated habits stemming from love of humanity”, and the Romans translated it into the Latin word “humanitas”, from which the “study of humanities” is derived.
In the Middle Ages, philanthropy was supplanted by the ideal of charity and selfless giving. But it experienced a resurgence in the Age of Enlightenment with famous proponents like Thomas Paine, who said, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good”, as well as Thomas Jefferson, who said that every man has a duty to not only devote a portion of his income to charity, but also to see that it did the most good possible, and Alexander Hamilton, who believed that the Constitution of the United States encouraged philanthropy as well as patriotism.
In the 20th century, the concept of philanthropy combines the classical tradition with modern social scientific thought, and is thus defined as private initiatives undertaken for public rather than private good, and which are dedicated to improving quality of life.
Courses in philanthropy seek to prepare students for the challenges of the nonprofit sector. Some even make the study of philanthropy itself a philanthropic practice. Colgate University in New York, for example, allows students to award real money to a foundation of their choice at the end of the year, after using case studies to determine which organization they believe will put it to best use.
The methodology of the philanthropist
A fundamental question in the field is the extent to which it should incorporate standard business practices. In many ways, a non-profit organization functions similarly to a business enterprise, in that it requires a goal, and a means of generating the resources necessary to achieve that goal. But in many other respects it is completely different, and the sector in which it operates is governed by different rules.
According to the non-profit Centre for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, founder and chair of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS), has dedicated herself to developing educational material for the study of philanthropy. The material includes comprehensive case studies of philanthropic foundations and practices, and teaching resources for students in the field. The purpose of such material is to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms which govern the non-profit sector.
This is in contrast to many other courses, which seem determined to apply standard business principals to the study of philanthropy. According to Phil Buchanan (CEP), this approach renders such courses inadequate, as the issues addressed by philanthropic work are issues which business and government sectors have been unable to resolve.
Material such as that provided by PACS helps develop philanthropy as a unique field of study, one that seeks to devise its own theories and practices rather than simply emulating those utilized in business and government sectors. In this way, it can better prepare philanthropy students to meet the challenges of the field on their own terms.
Read our guide to TAFE courses in Australia.