Laurie Burns McRobbie

Mini University 2015, “The Art and Science of Philanthropy” Remarks

Thank you, Legene. I’m very happy to be here this year.

Today’s session explores a topic that we all have familiarity with, some of you quite a lot, I’m sure. We all engage in the act of giving, whether it’s once or twice in our lifetimes or on a consistent basis. 

Especially as Americans, we almost take it for granted—of course one should give within the bounds of one’s ability, and to one extent or another we consider it an act of citizenship, something that defines what it means to be an American and a member of a community. 

And yet, when we go beyond our personal experiences, we probably all have different ideas of what philanthropy is. 

We each give from different motivations and have had different educations in giving. 

We probably all have different ideas about who is or isn’t a philanthropist—whether how much you give matters in this definition, not to mention whether we each value the giving of time in the same way we value the giving of money. 

And we may not really understand what it means in a collective context—how do all the individual acts of generosity add up, and how do they fit into the economy and society? 

We may not understand what it means to engage in research about philanthropy—what do the research studies focus on? How do you interpret what you find out? Who is interested in this kind of research? 

And maybe we understand even less about what it means to earn an academic degree in philanthropy—what exactly do you study? What are the underlying theories in the field? What can you use such a degree for? 

Today, we’re going to expand our definition and our understanding of philanthropy, and take a look at it on a broad scale, including how it affects our society and how it affects our lives and our health. 

Philanthropy, in its dictionary sense, means “love of humankind”, but I want to use the definition of philanthropy put forth by one of the field’s founding fathers, Indiana University’s own Robert Payton.

Dr. Payton is one of the pioneers of the academic study of giving, and along with Gene Tempel and others, created The Fund Raising School and then the larger Center on Philanthropy at IUPUI over 30 years ago.  Since then, it has been one of the leading programs in philanthropic research, education and practitioner training in the country, and in 2013, was transformed into the world’s first School of Philanthropy, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. 

Robert Payton defined philanthropy as “voluntary giving for the public good.”

And “giving” in this definition includes time, talent, and treasure—in other words, philanthropy is not just about money, and philanthropists are not just the very wealthy benefactors with their names on buildings. This is important to keep in mind as you think about your own relationship to giving and listen to our three presenters today.

Before I introduce our presenters, I want to address one of the questions I raised, which is what it means to study philanthropy as a student in the program. As Legene noted, I am in the process of earning a Master’s degree in Philanthropic Studies, and often I’ll get asked, “you can get a degree in fundraising?” Well, no, you can’t quite do that! 

I like to describe my program as the multi-disciplinary study of the non-profit sector, including its relationship to government and the private sectors, and its parallels in civil society around the world. 

The core courses include economics, law, ethics, history, and international comparisons—and one course in fundraising, along with a number of electives, independent research projects, and an internship. 

There are many aspects of the program that stand out for me, such as the excellent faculty and my fellow students, many of whom are from other countries.

For instance, last summer I was in class with students from Turkey, South Africa, and Israel. 

But what has drawn me the most is that we’re in a particularly interesting time for studying how philanthropy works. 

Lines between sectors are blurring, as blended, “double” or “triple bottom-line” corporate models are starting to emerge; as government support for nonprofits shift and we debate changes to the tax code; and as nonprofits themselves evolve new, more entrepreneurial and sometimes more business-like approaches to how they operate. 

Where, how, and why people give is changing, especially with the advent of social media. 

In higher education, as state support diminishes from its high water mark in the 1960s and 70s, philanthropy has become even more crucial to how universities achieve real excellence, and it continues to be how higher education in the United States distinguishes itself from higher education in the rest of the world. 

But, as we are starting to see and as we will hear a bit more about, the rest of the world is starting down this same path, often with the help of Indiana University.

So let’s get started. I will introduce each of our panelists, starting with Dr. Osili, and each will speak in turn for about 15 minutes, after which we’ll have time for your questions and some discussion.

Una Osili

Una Osili is Director of Research for the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Dr. Osili leads the School’s extensive research program for its partners, and provides guidance for the research for Giving USA, which is published by Giving USA Foundation. She also directs the School's signature research project, the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS).  Una and I were just in Indonesia together with our many alumni from the Asia Pacific; as you’ll hear shortly, Una will also give us a view of international philanthropy.

Dr. Osili earned her B.A. in Economics at Harvard University, and her M.A., and Ph.D. in Economics from Northwestern University.

Debra J. Mesch

Debra Mesch is Professor and Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) and holds the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Endowed Chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Dr. Mesch’s primary responsibility is to guide the research agenda on the role of gender in philanthropy and publish the WPI Women Give reports. I want to particularly note that it is Professor Mesch’s research and the work of the WPI that catalyzed the formation of the Women’s Philanthropy program at Indiana University, led by the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council.

Professor Mesch received both her M.B.A. and Ph.D. in organizational behavior/human resource management from Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Sara Konrath

Sara Konrath is an Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Dr. Konrath is the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR), a research lab with a primary focus on motivations, traits, and behaviors relevant to philanthropic giving, volunteering, and other prosocial behaviors. Her research focuses on empathy, and on the health impacts of giving. She is also using technology, specifically mobile phones, to implement empathy-building programs.

Professor Konrath received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan (my own alma mater and in my home town!).