The growth of philanthropy studies, the increasing number of academics who would call themselves philanthropy scholars and the fact that philanthropy is attracting interest from leading scholars across the disciplinary spectrum are encouraging developments for philanthropy practitioners. As the field matures, however, there is a danger that these positive signs will mask some of the challenges ahead.
One key question is who should fund philanthropy scholarship and what restrictions will the source of funding place on scholars? What would happen if scholars are critical not just of philanthropy as an institution but also of philanthropists whose names increasingly adorn the buildings in their institutions? Will scholars feel the frosty gaze of university leaderships and fundraisers driven to secure more philanthropic cash as part of their institution’s survival strategy at a time of government cuts to higher education?
The obvious and arguably ideal scenario is that universities should fund research on philanthropy themselves as part of their commitment to building the knowledge base. Universities could do this through academics electing to use their freedom to research topics relevant to philanthropy or by universities seeking support from philanthropists and foundations or other non-profit partners.
The philanthropy studies field competes for space, conceptually speaking, with civil society studies, voluntary sector studies, non-profit management studies and social entrepreneurship, to name a few.