Giving to other people’s children

What Matters

I spent part of the holiday in India’s Rajasthan state, literally the “Land of the Kings,” where majestic forts and palaces, unsurpassed in grandeur, serve as testimony to the primacy of sustaining family legacy. Unfortunately for many of the splendid forts and palaces, perched on hills high above the land they ruled, grandeur fell victim to the challenge of bringing enough water up the hill to sustain these small cities.  

The entirety of public life was subsumed in the life of the court and the dignity of the realm was reflected in the lives of the royal family. Quite literally, one family and its legacy defined the public life of the time. The concentration of dignity in one family, the denial of dignity to others, and technical challenges, like the shortage of water, drove this system out of business.

A social arrangement that sees the vast majority of its members used as tools for promoting the glory of a single family is no longer tenable. Today we compose our polities as citizens, each equal before the law. Yet the desire to benefit our own remains strong and it plays a large role in how we conduct our philanthropy. 

Some say it continues to play too large a role. A recent New York Timeseditorial questioned the impact of that most wholesome American practice; the PTA bake sale. The editors point out that some school districts can raise a lot more money than others, which in reality means that wealthy districts with more resources raise significantly more money than poorer school districts that have fewer resources to begin with, thus deepening the divide between the have and have nots.

The editors suggest sharing fundraising proceeds among schools, though they are not clear if this sharing should be voluntary or compelled by authorities. In some states, school districts have decided to share a portion of their fundraising proceeds to lessen the disparities across districts.

Vox recently produced an excellent podcast on the failed attempt at sharing by the Malibu and Santa Monica School districts, which led me to wonder what would happen if parents chose to turn their backs completely on public schools, deciding to confer whatever benefits they wanted for their children in the home, in tutorials, and outside of the public gaze. Over-regulating the flow of philanthropic revenue can defeat its purpose as a voluntary act. 

Peter Singer, the philosopher who inspired the “effective altruism” movement, famously proposed a thought experiment in which a passerby is obligated to wade into a pond and save a drowning child, even if it ruins his expensive suit. He extends this intuition to challenge all of us to make do without excess resources so that other humans in conditions of material deprivation can be helped, wherever they may be located.

This is for many an extreme view as it treats all human happiness and welfare equally wherever it is found. Many of us think that we have stronger obligations to help those who are closest to us – our families, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. 

I suspect that many of us we would chose a place between amassing all the benefits for our family like a Raja and dispersing all resources beyond actual necessities to those in most need like an effective altruist. Too much benefit flowing to your children can spoil them, but it is also not in their interest to leave them a highly unequal society where their fellow citizens live bleak lives of deprivation. So for the benefit of your own children, you would want to take care of other people’s children as well.

I think it is a useful lens to see how we treat other people’s children in our society, be it through public policy or through philanthropy. In our philanthropy, in particular, we often have the opportunity to give to institutions that benefit our own children. Should we treat this opportunity as equally desirable as the opportunity to give to institutions that benefit other people’s children whose well-being will also help shape the world we leave our progeny? 

One institution that has recently changed its focus to benefit those outside its “family” is Johns Hopkins University. It recently stopped giving the children of its alumni a “legacy” preference in admissions that is common among many other prominent universities.

For example, last year’s lawsuit that Harvard University won against a group of Asian-American applicants alleging discrimination revealed that alumni enjoyed more than a fivefold advantage compared to non-alumni applicants. The president of Johns Hopkins said that he found the accident of family connection “deeply perplexing given the country’s deep commitments to merit and equal opportunity.”

How do we gauge how much we should give to “our own” and how much we should give to those who are outside our family or our tribe? I think how we answer this question helps shape the quality of our public life. Maybe there are other issues beyond college admissions where we should be paying more attention to other people’s children?

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Connecting communities, building relationships, and empowering refugees

Meyerson competition students

In fall 2019, we hosted the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Leadership and Giving Competition, in which five undergraduate students competed to earn two service scholarships, as well as the Prize for International Service Competition, where five graduate students vied to earn one international service scholarship.

The winners shared their backgrounds, thoughts on the competition, and hopes for what they will learn with their scholarships.

David Johnson

David JohnsonA non-traditional bachelor’s student, David Johnson returned to school in order to invest in his community and grow his potential. Although involved with philanthropy from a young age, Johnson initially wanted a career in politics but ultimately realized that the field of philanthropy and nonprofits was where he wanted to make a difference. So, he created a nonprofit that would help address community support issues.

Spring Oath maps community and neighborhood resources so that individuals and families can find easily-accessible resources and help if they need it. To improve and build Spring Oath, Johnson wants to study the perspective of clients served by nonprofits in order to ensure that clients receive top-quality services and have a voice in the nonprofit’s processes and actions.

Johnson competed in the Meyerson Competition, winning the opportunity to learn more and visit the Family Independence Initiative (FII) in Oakland, CA. FII focuses on six key values in order to help lift people out of poverty: families, relationships, community, learning and innovating, agility, and leadership. Johnson hopes that through this scholarship, he is able to learn more, grow and develop Spring Oath, and help contribute to a greater understanding of community, philanthropy, and leadership. 

“Everybody is part of a community, in some shape or form,” he said. “So, how do we serve those communities and develop sustainable and empowering opportunities for growth?”

Emma Rota-Autry

Emma Rota-AutryFirst-year bachelor’s student Emma Rota-Autry met her best friend through Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to ending social, economic, and physical isolation of 200 million people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD). Meeting Yeahsen John, studying in China, and taking care of her father who has ALS helped Rota-Autry realize that she wanted to form a career in giving back.

That led her to realize that she wanted to study philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. A desire to learn more about Best Buddies, participate in its annual conference, and shadow one of its leaders inspired Rota-Autry to apply for the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Leadership and Giving.

Her dream is to expand Best Buddies so that every student with IDD has an opportunity to be more confident and hopeful.

“Diversity is a fact now. Inclusion is a choice,” Rota-Autry emphasized. “I hope to learn about Best Buddies and help more students realize and experience the benefits it can provide.”

Emily Jones

Emily JonesSecond-year master’s student Emily Jones has discovered passions in social justice and equity throughout her bachelor’s and master’s in philanthropic studies programs. In her presentation for the International Prize, Jones used the example of a fire that destroyed all of her possessions three years ago. She described how she felt when she saw the fire extinguish her belongings, explaining how traumatizing the situation was. However, Jones said that it was nothing compared to the situations that Syrian refugees faced when leaving homes and lives behind to venture into an unknown land.

When she studied abroad in Germany, Jones saw firsthand how the German government created a welcoming environment for many refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. However, some political parties incited backlash against the millions of refugees who have made Germany their home, stripping away dignity for people fleeing horrific situations.

To promote refugee rights, Jones discussed her desire to learn from Amnesty International, a nonprofit dedicated to campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. 

“Amnesty International serves as a voice for those trapped in precarious situations, and seeks to preserve dignity for every single human,” Jones explained. 

“I hope to return to Germany to learn more about the organization and the impact it’s had for refugees starting over and creating new lives in a new place.”

Discover how you can support students through scholarship opportunities

How philanthropy addresses issues of legitimacy, power, and social change

Seçil Kinay and Catherine Herrold

Assistant professor Catherine Herrold, Ph.D., delivered the keynote address at the European Foundation Centre’s Grantmakers East Forum in Tbilisi, Georgia, a two-day conference that convened participants who represent grantmaking foundations, bilateral donors, international organizations, and corporate funders. Seçil Kinay, executive master’s student and special projects manager at the Vehbi Koç Foundation in Turkey, moderated the keynote.

The conference’s theme, “Common Actions for Social Change: Mobilising People, Creating Spaces, Using Technologies,” included questions about foundation legitimacy, grantmaking foundations’ roles in supporting movements for social change and public policy change, and new forms of community-based and community-owned philanthropy.

Herrold studies and analyzes such questions within the Middle East context. She applied scholarly insights about foundations, legitimacy, power, and social movements in her address, while also drawing on her experiences studying how civil society activists promote change even in “repressive political environments.”

What stood out to her throughout the conference was the thoughtfulness and openness with which foundation leaders approached questions and critiques about the inherent power imbalances between foundations and social change actors.

Manifestations of power imbalances and social movements’ reactions to them reflect what Herrold and other scholars have observed and studied in social movements around the world.

“Activist-led protests and movements for change are combating the very systems of power that allow foundations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to exist. Many of these activist groups reject funding and partnerships with NGOs and foundations because of the power differentials inherent in funding relationships,” she explained.

“So, if foundations are truly interested in supporting these movements, how can they productively and legitimately engage with these groups? How can foundations grapple with a global crisis of legitimacy? How can social change actors who receive funding from foundations remain focused at the grassroots level instead of becoming professionalized? What are the future prospects for civil societies in which social change actors are increasingly establishing and working within informal groups rather than NGOs?”

Those types of questions undergirded the two days of the conference, which included sessions focused on building digital spaces, creating an activist’s toolkit for social change, leading social change from the margin, and more.

No clear answers arose, but Herrold left impressed that foundations themselves are grappling with issues of legitimacy and power, while constructively finding ways and outlets to discuss these issues.

These issues and topics form core lessons in Herrold’s classes, and she plans to continue to incorporate lessons about civil society in different countries, as well as foundation legitimacy and power. She draws upon research from scholars and practitioners with expertise in philanthropy and knowledge about specific geographical areas. In addition, Herrold enjoys working with Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Ph.D. students whose work critically and comparatively studies NGOs, civil society, and social movements.

Herrold’s forthcoming book on civil society and democracy promotion in Egypt, Delta Democracy: Pathways to Incremental Civic Revolution in Egypt and Beyond, is now available for preorder at Oxford University Press.

Preorder your copy now

Partnership builds understanding of European philanthropy

Global Philanthropy Environment Index - European Edition

Recently, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Donors and Foundations Network in Europe (DAFNE) partnered to release the European Edition of the Global Philanthropy Environment Index (GPEI).

“DAFNE serves as the umbrella organization for the foundation sector in Europe. Our members consist of 30 national associations of foundations and donors all across Europe,” DAFNE executive director Max von Abendroth explained.

DAFNE focuses on three main areas of work:

  • Advocacy

“We partner with the European Foundation Centre (EFC) to help shape the regulatory system in order to enable a more open environment for the foundation sector in Europe, which includes advocating for or against certain tax policies, anti-money laundering, legally defining charity, and laws and policies against terrorism that can have a negative effect on our sector, etc.

“There are many potentially harmful side effects that can occur when certain laws are passed, so we try to advocate for certain measures to be carefully considered before passage.”

  • Capacity building

“We provide a forum for leaders and staff members to learn from each other. We try to help our national association members help their foundation members be more impactful and more effective in what they’re doing.

“We hope that by building these collaborative networks, organizations across Europe can understand and possibly implement practices from other areas in Europe.”

  • Building communications

“We want to communicate philanthropy and its impact to the general public. There are a lot of questions about transparency, governance, and overall legitimacy, and we hope that we can build a more thorough understanding of what philanthropy is and what it does.”

As part of their strategic goals, von Abendroth and DAFNE reached out to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in order to fully understand the environment for philanthropy across Europe.

“The school had recently produced the full Global Philanthropy Environment Index report, which analyzed challenges and opportunities for philanthropy on a global scale.

“We wanted to understand what was happening in Europe, so we partnered with the school to more fully understand the context for philanthropy in Europe.”

Utilizing experts across Europe, the report helps give individuals working inside and outside of philanthropy an overview of the philanthropic situation in Europe.

“A year after the publication, and we’re still utilizing this material in our meetings across Europe,” von Abendroth explained.

In addition to the European edition of GPEI, DAFNE has also worked with other partners in Europe to create the Philanthropy Manifesto, a document that outlines policy recommendations for philanthropy in Europe, including the call for a single market in philanthropy.

“As one country, the U.S. has a single market. Across Europe, the situation is quite different. A single market exists for products and services but not for donations, charities, and so on,” von Abendroth said.

“For example, if a Belgian foundation wants to give a donation to Portugal, it could but it wouldn’t have all of the tax benefits that it would if it gave in Belgium. There isn’t an incentive to donate from one country to another, so the Philanthropy Manifesto calls for the creation of a single market through various recommendations that highlight philanthropy, facilitate cross-border philanthropy, enable and protect philanthropy, and co-grant and co-invest for public good.”

That ties in what von Abendroth views as the potential of future work with philanthropy in Europe. “In the future, we hope that we can all have a deeper understanding of how philanthropy is connected to all parts of our society,” he said. “This (current) European edition of the GPEI helps give a little more granularity about the context that philanthropy is embedded in.

“I like how it breaks down the criteria and shows how each country stands in comparison to each other based on those criteria. It helps to deepen the understanding of what philanthropy is and where the roadblocks exist.” 

Collaborating on projects across continents also benefits both European and American philanthropy practitioners and organizations.

“As a European, it helps to learn an outsider’s perspective, and to receive questions that are relevant for us but that nobody here asks,” von Abendroth said. “We can broaden understanding of a field that is highly diverse across Europe, so having that outside perspective helps us understand what happens across the continent.”

Von Abendroth also sees how U.S. research and practitioners can benefit from understanding the European perspective:

“You can always learn from the way people and organizations collaborate, how they do or don’t take risks, and how changes happen. Sharing successes and failures helps us learn from each other and helps raise awareness about philanthropy, no matter which country or continent you’re working on.”

Dive into the findings of this report

New York Times columnist David Brooks, writer and convener Anne Snyder to headline March 12 Lake Lecture

17th annual Lake Lecture with David Brooks and Anne Snyder

Patterns of religious and philanthropic participation are changing across all types of groups and organizations, and research suggests that these changes may be linked. Lower religious affiliation and activity may lead to less charitable giving and community engagement.

At the same time, new forms of faith-based activity, philanthropy, and community are emerging. Taken together, these trends have powerful implications for faith, philanthropy, and the fabric and future of America’s communities.

David Brooks joined the Aspen Institute as an executive director in March 2018 to spearhead a bold new project aimed at bridging the differences that divide Americans and seeking out a compelling common ground. The project will include a series of workshops in diverse communities across the nation in order to identify unifying themes and promising partners.

The initiative’s longer-term goal is to draw attention to organizations that are effectively healing social divisions, to see how their efforts can be applied to the national level, and to create a network and set of permanent structures to allow for planning, dialogue, and action.

Since 2016, Snyder has directed The Philanthropy Roundtable‘s Character Initiative, a program seeking to help foundations and business leaders strengthen “the middle ring” of morally formative institutions. Her path-breaking guidebook, The Fabric of Character: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Renewing our Social and Moral Landscape, was published in 2019.

She is also a Fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank that explores how cities can drive opportunity for the bulk of their citizens, and a Senior Fellow of The Trinity Forum.

Join Brooks and Snyder for the 17th Annual Thomas H. Lake Lecture as they discuss faith, philanthropy, and community.

Philanthropy and the vast and diverse nonprofit sector it supports are, in fact, defining strengths of the United States. Even with all its flaws and room for improvement, giving has contributed to much of the good we take for granted.

Nonprofits and their staff are often unsung heroes, doing the work that markets and government can’t, or won’t. But giving effectively requires rejecting prevalent myths: that giving is like investing; that nonprofits should operate “like business”; and that we should judge our giving using the kind of measures that are prevalent in the business world.

Join Buchanan and Catherine Herrold, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, for a lively public discussion focused on Buchanan’s new book.