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Philanthropy in the Classroom

By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

Did you think about studying philanthropy in college? Take any classes on nonprofit management? Would you have taken those courses if you had the chance? I didn’t and yet my career has mostly stayed within the bounds of the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. However, for a small group of graduating undergraduates at Indiana University, philanthropy has been both an in- and out-of-classroom pursuit during their college years.

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University has long been an academic leader in philanthropic studies, but only recently started offering degree programs in the field. In 2008, the first Doctorate in Philanthropic Studies was awarded by the university, and this year marks the first class of graduating undergraduates, earning Bachelors’ in Philanthropic Studies. (Note: when I say the “first,” I mean the first degrees ever issued in this area — not just from Indiana University.)

So what does a Bachelor’s in Philanthropic Studies entail? Students attend introductory classes on philanthropy and giving in the US, consider the ethical issues involved with philanthropy, and how philanthropy interacts with other disciplines. They can also choose more practical courses on nonprofit management, community service, and fundraising, but all students also complete an internship in the field.

Time will tell how well an academic pursuit of philanthropy prepares “next genders” to jump into the work of foundations and institutes. And back to the question: would I have chosen to study philanthropy if given the option? I don’t think so. I value my academic background in a specific discipline (international affairs and economics), which prepared me to address specific social issues in the international arena. While philanthropic studies offers some opportunity to engage with specific social issues and concerns, I wonder if another good option is to offer philanthropy and nonprofit management courses within other fields. How can biologists, chemists, historians, economists, artists, social workers and linguists put their academic passions to use in a socially-oriented context? I certainly would have taken a course that taught me how to do that.

Tell us what you think — how valuable is a major in philanthropic studies? Would it have made a difference in your career path?

One thought on “Philanthropy in the Classroom

  1. I’m a grad of the Master’s program so I’m a bit biased. However, i felt I had a strong understanding of the practical skills and efforts by working in the sector and saw the MA in Philanthropic Studies as a ‘liberal arts’ version of an MPA. Now, doing major gift work, it’s helped in conversations with current and future philanthropists around their thoughts, efforts and impact on society. My understanding is that in the under-grad program, the classes are quite full of students from a variety of majors so I hope, as you do, that we’re developing students who will go into other fields and be more philanthropic-minded as well.

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