Reviewed by Pat Danahey Janin
Why learn about philanthropy? Is generosity so complicated, after all? The rising number of philanthropy education programmes across the globe attests to the growing interest in a more formal study of the meaning and practice of giving money, time or talent for the betterment of society. Beth Breeze and Michael Moody, both notable academics in the field on different sides of the Atlantic, set out to create a ‘one-stop resource’ for students and practitioners seeking a fuller picture of the ‘nature, importance and diversity of the field’.
With The Philanthropy Reader they succeed in presenting a thorough treatment of this complex topic. It addresses the evolving social, political and economic contexts and competing views of philanthropy’s role in our societies. It takes an international and interdisciplinary approach, including articles from leading thinkers in both the academic and practitioner fields. These include, for example, competing definitions of philanthropy, the role of altruism and self-interest, and humanistic or effective philanthropy.
The Philanthropy Reader addresses the question of philanthropy generally but focuses on elite philanthropy, which revolves around institutionalized giving (think foundations), the importance of donor agency, and the link between for-profit business practices and philanthropic models, for example impact investing and social entrepreneurship. It does not highlight one sector (such as education), use literary texts or provide practical ‘how to’ indicators for donors; nor is it a ‘feel good’ assembly of articles praising philanthropy. Rather, it is a carefully organized collection with sometimes surprising insights on topics such as biological altruism, the illogical geography of almshouses in England, and the apparent racism and politicized philanthropic practices after 9/11. These views challenge complacency and raise key contemporary questions.