Heterodoxy is consciousness: Valuing pluralism for the discoveries it generates


“Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” Readers of Orwell’s 1984 may remember that Big Brother banned all disagreement with the Party, and this phrase conveys the terror of absolute oppression and enforced uniformity of thought. But Big Brother suggested a comforting effortlessness implicit in never having to question and engage in the struggle of doubt.

We have an independent sector precisely to welcome the struggle and to continuously question the orthodoxies that seek to envelop us. We reject orthodoxy in part for aesthetic reasons – there is more variety to behold and experience. But more importantly we reject it because it is by confronting conjectures about truth with their refutations that we discover new knowledge and better ways to be together in society.

Readers of The Chronicle of Philanthropy are aware of a vigorous discussion spurred by an opinion piece embracing heterodoxy in philanthropy. The essay united leaders from across the political spectrum to voice their support for “philanthropic pluralism.” The essay and the responses to it should be required reading as they lead us to ask why we have organized philanthropy in the first place. The authors don’t concern themselves directly with the conditions of open inquiry, but in seeking to dampen the clash of contradictory public purposes, they remind us that discovering better knowledge about the world and ourselves is a fundamental if underappreciated value of the independent sector.

The presidents of the Ford, Templeton, and Doris Duke Foundations were joined by the heads of the Council on Foundations, the Philanthropy Roundtable, and Stand Together to express their concern that pluralism in philanthropy was under siege, and to commit themselves to respecting different approaches to donating, while promising to engage their deep-seated disagreements respectfully.

They come closest to articulating the value of discovery when they write:

During these turbulent times, diversity in philanthropic giving can help shape and inform discussions about the most important issues of the day. It is through this diversity that philanthropy can proffer, study, and test a multiplicity of ideas and approaches to confront society’s greatest challenges.

However, they say little about the value of clashing, contesting, and arguing across different ideas and approaches. And this is too bad because it is from the messy cacophony of competition and struggling to convince each other that we generate knowledge that leads to innovation and progress. Yes, the contest should be respectful as they say, but there is a furious battle at hand about the purpose of public life. The terms of the struggle are important, but it is the fact that we are contesting not only the foundations whose prerogatives they seek to protect, but the actual foundations of our society, that is the reason we need to remind ourselves of the rules of civilized combat.   

Many critics zeroed in on the essay’s historical justification and the implication that each different conception of the public good has equal standing:

The history of philanthropy is a history of using private capital to supplement, not replace, other approaches to investing in and supporting a prosperous and just society. A critical way philanthropy does this is by helping to make pluralism possible. Philanthropy as a whole makes its greatest contribution to democracy when all foundations and donors engage in the unfettered pursuit of their own mission, interests, and prerogatives.

In response, Vu Le argued that odious practices, attitudes, and laws have received unwarranted legitimacy under the cover of pluralism. Edgar Villanueva argued that the politeness of a middle ground that validates all perspectives puts marginalized communities at a disadvantage. Craig Kennedy pointed to the self-interest of the six authors who represent the philanthropic establishment at a time when the purposes of their institutions, as so many others, are being brought into question. Phil Buchanan bristled at the definiteness of the “manifesto” and sought to open up the space for critique about what is in and out of bounds amidst our plural conceptions of the good.

Uma Viswanathan, Executive Director of the New Pluralists, chimed in to depict pluralism as a field of engagement across difference and disagreement, bringing attention to formerly sidelined people and perspectives that find new energy in a time of ferment and disorientation. Her emphasis on the interactions among different conceptions of the good is where we need to put more focus.

Pluralism is not only protective of rights and differences and our choices to conceive of the purposes we seek to pursue, though this function certainly must be defended. Pluralism is also generative of novel and unexpected understandings precisely because we don’t compartmentalize incompatible approaches, we encourage them to engage. Our six leaders usefully pointed out that we haven’t found good ways of engaging our incompatibilities and reminded us of the civilized rules of engagement. The critics point out that this is not enough. They are both right.

This useful controversy reminds us that the notion of an open society has a protective justification which the six authors nicely depict. But it also has a generative justification in terms of its ability to produce useful, new knowledge, including science.

From the conservative icon, Friedrich Hayek, to contemporary liberal uberfunder George Soros, the notion of an open society has been prized precisely because it opens up space for the contest of ideas to lead to new insight. As we battle nefarious efforts to stifle the open flow of ideas, we should invite, anticipate, and welcome the discoveries to come.

Celebrating new grads, Jim Morris honorary degree

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s newest graduates were honored during IU Indianapolis commencement ceremonies May 12-13 and a school recognition ceremony May 13. Graduating students earned Ph.D., Master of Arts, and Bachelor of Arts degrees or graduate certificates in Philanthropic Studies.

The 2023 graduates represent a wide range of experience, from veteran philanthropic sector leaders completing graduate-level programs that expand their knowledge and enhance their careers and organizations to civically engaged undergraduates. Organizations across the philanthropic sector and around the world will benefit from the graduating students’ expertise.

This year’s graduates have won new positions such as:

  • The Patterson Foundation Fellows
  • Orr Fellow
  • Grants Manager, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
  • Development Manager, First Tee – Monterrey County
  • Stewardship Development Associate, Cleveland Clinic
  • Volunteer and Program Coordinator, Teachers’ Treasures
  • Associate Director of Donor Relations, Purdue for Life Foundation

Other graduates are continuing their current roles such as:

  • Managing Director of Strategy, Offer Management, and Analytics, Schwab Charitable
  • Vice President of Strategy and Culture, Bader Philanthropies
  • Associate Vice President, Ignite Philanthropy
  • President, Islamic Relief USA
  • Senior Philanthropy and Events Specialist, Big Lots
  • Pops and Presentations Coordinator, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
  • Community Builder, John Boner Neighborhood Center
  • Director of Planned Giving, Vanderbilt University

Several graduates earned special honors, including:

  • Emma Rota-Autry, B.A., was selected as one of IU Indianapolis Top 100 undergraduate students. These honorees demonstrate academic excellence, campus leadership and community engagement.
  • The Undergraduate Chancellor’s Scholar for the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is Kate Corey. She earned the highest G.P.A. in the undergraduate class and graduated with highest distinction.
  • Bailey Miller, B.A., also graduated with highest distinction.
  • Emma Rota-Autry and Caleb Johnson, B.A., graduated with high distinction.
  • Jada Halliburton Ford, B.A., and Collin Jester, B.A., graduated with distinction.

James T. “Jim” Morris, former member of the school’s Board of Visitors and former chair of the Trustees of Indiana University, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Indiana University at the IU Bloomington undergraduate commencement ceremony for his enduring contributions to Indiana University and the state of Indiana. Morris, who currently is vice chairman of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, is a long-time national and international philanthropy leader. He previously served as president of Lilly Endowment Inc. and was executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

During the recognition ceremony, Morris and alumna Caroline Altman Smith, M.A. ’04, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation’s education program and recipient of the school’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award, were keynote speakers. Master’s degree graduate Phuong Tran Nguyen also spoke.

Giving to LGBTQ+ organizations is just over 0.1% of U.S. philanthropy, research finds

A new LGBTQ+ Index and research report from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy shows philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations accounted for 0.13% of total U.S. charitable giving in 2019, the latest year for which data are available.

The LGBTQ+ Index, made possible through anchor funding from Google.org, is the most comprehensive measure of philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations from individuals, foundations, and corporations in the U.S. It provides a baseline for helping practitioners, policymakers, funders, journalists, and scholars better understand giving to this under-resourced group. The Index includes nonprofits active from 2012 to 2019; the report focuses on the years 2015-2019.

LGBTQ+ organizations received approximately $560 million in philanthropic support in 2019, just 0.13% of overall charitable giving that year, which was estimated to be over $426 billion, according to Giving USA 2022*. However, the rate of growth in philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations was nearly double that of non-LGBTQ+ organizations (46.3% and 24.9%, respectively) from 2015 to 2019.

“We are pleased to launch the inaugural LGBTQ+ Index as part of our school's commitment to better understanding charitable giving to under-served communities,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the school. “The Index provides groundbreaking insights that enable people and organizations in the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves in charitable giving data. This new research shows that LGBTQ+ organizations are operating with relatively low levels of philanthropic support and other financial resources while still achieving powerful results for the diverse communities they serve.”

Giving to LGBTQ+ organizations grew at a particularly strong rate in 2017 (11.7%) and 2018 (12.2%), which corresponds with documented growth in giving to LGBTQ+ causes following the 2016 presidential election. Among LGBTQ+ organizations, civil rights and advocacy are key focus areas. Over half (52.9%) of philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations goes to those whose missions include civil rights and advocacy. Transgender-specific organizations saw especially strong growth in giving in recent years, increasing by nearly 200% between 2015 and 2019.

“The LGBTQ+ Index adds important knowledge and resources about gaps in philanthropy for the community. Only by understanding current trends fully can we hope for true equity in support,” said Philip Yeo from Google.org. “The Index provides actionable tools for individuals and organizations seeking to support the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a baseline for future research. We’re very proud to be supporting this important work.”

The LGBTQ+ Index, which will be updated annually, can be used by a variety of audiences. For example, leaders of LGBTQ+ organizations can use the research findings to advocate for greater financial support. Donors and funders can use the findings to inform funding strategies and search the Index database by keyword, focus area and geographic location to identify specific organizations to support. Scholars can use the downloadable list of organizations included in the Index to answer a range of questions about LGBTQ+ nonprofits and philanthropy.

The full database, report, infographic, and case studies of LGBTQ+ organizations are available at EquitableGivingLab.org/LGBTQIndex.

*Giving USA 2022, about giving in 2021, is published by Giving USA Foundation and is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.