Welcoming the evolution of philanthropy studies

Michael Liffman

In an article in Alliance in September 2014 I lamented the paucity of courses on philanthropy at universities worldwide. How pleasing, therefore, to see a whole issue devoted to the recent growth in this field.

Quite properly, the contributions reveal both differences and commonalities, relating to the scope of philanthropy, the balance between research and teaching, and the themes to be emphasized. These contributions all clearly recognize how the scope of philanthropy now ranges across traditional and contemporary grantmaking, the wider voluntary sector, and the vast and expanding field now being reshaped by social entrepreneurs and impact investors.

The Graduate and Masters degrees in Philanthropy and Social Investment that have been offered in Australia by Swinburne University’s Asia Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment since 2002 initially focused, unapologetically, on grantmaking. The rationale was that social investment bears many similarities to commercial investment, and the fact that success in the former entails social as distinct from financial outcomes only adds to the range, complexity and importance of the skills required.

Accordingly, as well as the obvious subjects on governance, tax and regulatory issues, and the like, students studied family and personal dynamics, social policy, ethics, and research and evaluative methodologies, and participated in real-world experiential grantmaking activities. It was for this reason, too, that the programme was housed in the university’s business faculty, rather than a social science setting.

Now, important new ideas – most notably, impact assessment, and its offshoot, effective altruism – are challenging old ways of thinking, and hybrid forms of social investment are breaking down the sacred cows and longstanding dichotomies of the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Happily, the upsurge of academic activity in the field appears to be canvassing these perspectives.

Michael Liffman Adjunct associate professor, Centre for Social Impact, and founding director, Asia Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia. Email mliffman@swin.edu.au

Also on this topic of philanthropy studies, see ‘Shifting gears on philanthropy studies‘ by Juliet Valdinger. And also in the June issue, Keiran Goddard of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) contributes to the debate on foundation payout rates.

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Shifting gears on philanthropy studies

Juliet Valdinger