Paying more attention to the knowledge we use and produce in pursuing philanthropy can serve all of us. Seeing philanthropy as a domain of certainties limits what can be achieved, as it undervalues the critical role philanthropy plays in creating alternative ways of knowing – alternatives to the certainties that are often confidently promulgated by the market and the government.

It pays to ask how we might know problems differently, how we might know them better. When the work of discovery, analysis, and deliberation is neglected, we create a sense of permanent emergency in which delivering available help to known problems becomes our entire universe of possibilities.

Seeking knowledge is not about idle contemplation, though there is even utility to letting one’s mind wander and ensuring purely curiosity-based research. It is often about learning while doing, or what Aristotle called techne.

It is not a coincidence that discovery and education have often been co-located with philanthropic endeavors. When knowledge is not meant to serve established interests and conventions, it can generate alternatives to how we do things. It can propose broader rules and patterns that inform similar activities across space and time. This is Aristotle’s episteme, so our science and scholarship.

Also, by challenging our moral imagination, philanthropy leads us to ask how we want to contribute to the greater good. Legions are doing just that – deploying exceptional moral and practical knowledge about the communities and individuals they seek to lift up. During the pandemic and the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s killing, the surge of mutual assistance was based on moral knowledge – Aristotle’s phronesis.

Organizing knowledge in a field helps to spread established ways of doing among more people, including new entrants into the field. It also helps establish boundaries that can become the frontiers for inquiry so we can better understand how established practices work and how they might work better while also inquiring into any harmful consequences that should be addressed. As a field becomes better organized and professionalized, its public responsibility is also accentuated as it develops its sense of how it contributes to the public good.

In philanthropy, we have a proliferating set of associations that gather different kinds of donors, fundraisers, evaluators, implementors, and researchers. Once one’s curiosity about philanthropy is piqued, associations and consultants are prepared to provide community, knowledge and advisory services.

Associations and consultancies emerged before philanthropy became the focus of university-based teaching and discovery. Now, many of the social sciences and humanities have turned their curiosity to ask how and why voluntary actions affect our world and those who act in it. But this does not mean that university-based inquiry becomes disconnected from the world of practice. On the contrary, synthesizing and systematizing the wisdom of well-worn practice on the one hand, and providing rigorous scrutiny to proposed innovations on the other, are some of the essential contributions the academic field of Philanthropic Studies and allied fields can make.

To this end, our school has recently crafted a Professional Doctorate in Philanthropic Leadership that will create a conduit for proven leaders and innovators to engage the practical knowledge they have gained throughout their career with the systematic knowledge generated in the academy. This fusion of rigorous inquiry with practical experience will help generate useful, applied research -- knowledge that will be available to all.

These leaders will be making a significant commitment of time and energy to participate in knowledge creation. But we all participate in the consumption and creation of knowledge through our daily activities. Being aware of the ever-present role of knowledge can help us all become more effective by reflecting on why we do things the way we do them.

Here are a few points I like to remember as I reflect on the habits of thinking and doing that govern my work:

Knowledge is a communal pursuit. Knowledge is generated and nurtured in community. One of the first things that happens when a new field emerges is the formation of an association around it. Purely personal knowledge, like the idea of a private language that only you use, makes little sense and has limited impact. In this context, taking account of others who were previously excluded in generating relevant knowledge has become a more salient concern with our growing awareness of social inequality. Which communities do you engage in constructing the knowledge you use to forge your path?

Synthesizing knowledge is vital and challenging. The adage of sages touching different parts of an elephant and describing the nature, origin, and purposes of the parts with great rigor but failing to see the whole of the elephant reflects the growing complexity of knowledge that is being created in ever more specialized fields. In our professional doctorate program, generating pragmatic syntheses around important social trends and issues will be one of the contributions to knowledge that our students make.

Knowledge created with philanthropy should be public. Knowledge generated with and for philanthropy rests on a communal reservoir that should be replenished. I often wonder if philanthropic actors replenish or enhance the communal knowledge base about our civic sector as much as they should. Granted, nonprofits often have limited capacity to gather and disseminate knowledge.

But there are many commercial and governmental entities that work with nonprofits. Do they share and add to the knowledge nonprofits help generate, which could be used to help more nonprofits thrive? Scholars like Lucy Bernholz and others have drawn attention to the data that individuals and households freely contribute to the private data platforms that increasingly dominate activity on the Internet and beyond.

Perhaps it is ironic that the media industry that dominated the twentieth century as a commercial enterprise is increasingly pursuing a nonprofit model. Now that news media in and for particular geographic communities is being overshadowed by global attention-driven algorithms, the erosion of shared knowledge is undermining these communities. Will they be able to survive the onslaught of the algorithms whose designs are rarely shared with the public?

Knowledge is not the same as belief. Peddling belief as knowledge, frighteningly easy to do at scale with social media, is not a new problem. Socrates introduced it in his dialogue with Meno and did not leave us with any simple solutions, except that we put ourselves in danger if we don’t wrestle with the difference. The first step is to ask how our beliefs connect to those of others, scrutinizing them to make sure they possess the qualities that make them knowledge. Again, there is something communal in how we elevate beliefs to knowledge; indeed, philanthropy should work to make sure such processes are as open and available as possible.

<Finally, the knowledge we participate in creating should be available to us. There should be good reasons for taking publicly generated knowledge resources and sequestering them from the public. There are state secrets in the governmental realm and competitive advantages in the commercial arena. But how often do these apply to nonprofit and philanthropic actors?

When we keep consultants’ reports for nonprofit entities out of the public domain permanently as the default way of doing our work, or when we bestow anonymity on actors who work to affect our public lives, we not only violate norms we share, but we deprive our civic sector of sources of knowledge that could help it do its work better. This does not mean unmasking all anonymous donations today, but it should lead us to question whether they should stay anonymous forever. After all, most US presidential papers and state secrets are shared with the public after fifty years.

Certainly, the applied research projects developed by students in our professional doctorate will be publicly available to all who are curious about advances in philanthropy.

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

The first professional doctorate for philanthropy and social impact leaders from all sectors is now accepting applications

Professor Cindy M. Lott will direct the new Professional Doctorate of Philanthropic Leadership at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Accomplished professionals who want to make social change and have experience leading philanthropic, business, government, or other organizations can further hone their leadership and applied research skills to address complex, real-world problems by earning their professional doctorate in philanthropic leadership.

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IU Indianapolis has opened applications for its new online Professional Doctorate in Philanthropic Leadership (PhilD), the first professional, doctoral-level leadership degree in the field. The new degree program offers seasoned leaders a world-class educational experience tailored to elevate their professional roles as innovative senior executives and thought leaders within philanthropy and in cross-sectoral initiatives, both domestically and internationally.

“Our new Professional Doctorate in Philanthropic Leadership is a deliberate investment in the philanthropic sector’s leadership capacity and civil society to make social change. It will equip accomplished, thoughtful individuals to deepen and accelerate impact in philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and beyond,” said Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the school. “Today’s leaders are under growing pressure to integrate and apply knowledge with a deeper understanding of the context that shapes their world and the world that philanthropy seeks to affect.

“The PhilD program’s creation is in response to ongoing demand for an accessible way for leaders in the field to apply research-based knowledge to the issues they deal with daily, while also achieving a doctoral-level credential designed especially for them,” Pasic said. “We have already received many expressions of interest in the PhilD from prospective students. We look forward to welcoming the innovative leaders who will comprise our inaugural cohort.”

A doctorate for leaders and doers

While a traditional Ph.D. usually prepares graduates for academic positions, the PhilD is for practitioners and integrates philanthropy, leadership and inquiry. PhilD students and graduates will wield cutting-edge leadership tools and creative applications of existing research, scholarship, and data to help solve some of society’s most intractable problems through philanthropy, nonprofit and cross-sectoral initiatives. The curriculum is developed by members of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s award-winning faculty. Courses focus on applying new and existing knowledge, education, global perspectives, and professional experience to produce actionable insights that advance the practice of philanthropy and deliver social impact.

The PhilD is designed for working professionals. All courses are online and asynchronous. Students take a set curriculum delivered in year-round, sequential eight-week sessions for two years, even as they develop an applied research project. In lieu of a traditional dissertation, this final project, completed and presented in the third year of the degree program, utilizes extant or new research to address a real-world problem within an organization, an area of practice, or a particular initiative that may serve as a model for other leaders and organizations.

Final applied research projects are chosen by the student in conjunction with a faculty committee of their choosing, and students have wide latitude in the substantive area of applied research, as well as the form the project takes. The projects may address such areas of interest as leadership challenges, impact evaluation, diversity imperatives, policy development and implementation, fundraising technology or global considerations in rapidly changing civil society environments. The outcome of the final applied project may take one of myriad forms, including a written report, major case study, policy plan, impact evaluation tool, or other project outcomes that can be shared and used by the student author in a professional setting for real-world problem-solving.

Leaders from a wide range of fields, including the private, government and philanthropic sectors, are encouraged to apply. Experienced leaders within the C-suite or program leadership of their nonprofit organizations, founders, philanthropists, corporate foundation executives and government leaders who work in cross-sectoral environments are all examples of prospective students for the new PhilD. Leadership through extensive volunteering, such as serving as a long-term board member or trustee, may also qualify. PhilD students will move through the program as a cohort of peers, sharing and learning from their rich and diverse backgrounds and making lifelong professional connections. This diversity of experiences, training and thought will help support a vibrant community of thinkers and doers.

Lott has an extensive background at the intersection of philanthropic and nonprofit practice, research, teaching and curriculum design. Her expertise spans both practice and academic research, particularly applied research. She serves as a fellow at the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and was a policy fellow at Independent Sector.

“We are delighted that Professor Lott is directing the PhilD,” Pasic said. “ Her impressive knowledge and experience encompass teaching, research, policy engagement, governance and regulation across many facets of leadership relevant to all who are curious about philanthropy and prepared to make an even bigger difference through their work. Her expertise and prowess will be significant assets as we launch this new degree.”

Lott formerly was executive director and senior counsel to the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School and was a member of the U.S. IRS Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt Entities. She is chair of the public policy, politics, and law section of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Exempt Organizations subcommittee on state charities law. She has advised or served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations. A graduate of Yale Law School and Indiana University Bloomington, Lott is a frequent speaker at national conferences on philanthropic and nonprofit state regulation, compliance, ethics, management and governance.

“I am honored to join the prestigious Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and to lead the Professional Doctorate in Philanthropic Leadership,” Lott said. “This innovative new degree program affords an opportunity to seasoned leaders to integrate and expand upon the depth of prior knowledge and experiences that our student leaders will bring to the classroom, their peers and the major challenges of our civil society. The PhilD will further strengthen the philanthropic sector and our communities, develop the current and next generation of leadership, and launch these leaders into the next phase of their social change careers.”

The priority deadline for PhilD applications is Nov. 1, 2022; applications will close on Dec. 1, 2022. The inaugural group will be capped at no more than 25 students. They will begin the 48-credit-hour degree program in May 2023 and graduate in May 2026. Professional and academic prerequisites for PhilD applicants include a completed graduate degree in any field, at least five years of demonstrated leadership experience, and a commitment to advancing social good as evidenced by professional and personal endeavors. No GRE or other graduate entrance exam is required.

Indiana University and IU Indianapolis established the world’s first school dedicated solely to teaching and research about philanthropy which has been recognized internationally as a leading source of groundbreaking education and research for over three decades. The university pioneered the field of Philanthropic Studies and created the world’s first traditional Ph.D., master’s, and bachelor’s degrees in that field. The new PhilD is another first for education in the field of philanthropy.

For more information about the Doctorate in Philanthropic Leadership visit the program’s website.

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