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Understanding Philanthropy

Its Meaning and Mission

Robert L. Payton and Michael P. Moody

Publication Year: 2008

Philanthropy has existed in various forms in all cultures and civilizations throughout history, yet most people know little about it and its distinctive place in our lives. Why does philanthropy exist? Why do people so often turn to philanthropy when we want to make the world a better place? In essence, what is philanthropy? These fundamental questions are tackled in this engaging and original book. Written by one of the founding figures in the field of philanthropic studies, Robert L. Payton, and his former student sociologist Michael P. Moody, Understanding Philanthropy presents a new way of thinking about the meaning and mission of philanthropy. Weaving together accessible theoretical explanations with fascinating examples of philanthropic action, this book advances key scholarly debates about philanthropy and offers practitioners a way of explaining the rationale for their nonprofit efforts.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies


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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xvi

Unlike the rest of the book, where the voices of the two authors mix as one, in this preface we each contribute separately. This allows us to give a sense of how we each came to this book from our own perspective, background, and biases.

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1. Introduction: Why This Book?

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pp. 1-26

Oseola McCarty worked for most of her life as a paid-by-the bundle washerwoman, and yet she managed to build up substantial savings through frugal living—she never owned a car—and slow, steady accumulation. She saved enough so that in 1995, when she was eighty-seven, Ms. McCarty was able to make a gift of $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi for an endowment...

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2. Voluntary Action for the Public Good

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pp. 27-61

Most readers of this book can surely come up with at least a tentative answer to the question “What is philanthropy?” Chances are that these answers will vary widely, from “giving money” to “giving to help others” to the more literal and more general “love of mankind.” In fact, the same would be true if we asked scholars of philanthropy for their definitions.

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3. Because Things Go Wrong: Philanthropy as a Response to the Human Problematic

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pp. 62-95

Philanthropy appears in some form in all cultures and civilizations and through all recorded history. It seems there is something about the world, and about humans in this world, that calls philanthropy into being. Philanthropy is a response. But to what?What is it about the world that causes us to respond philanthropically...

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4. The World Can Be Made Better: Philanthropy as Moral Action

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pp. 96-130

In previous chapters, we have made the point that philanthropy is “moral action” and that the moral dimension of philanthropy is the most important. The connection to morality, we argued in chapter 2, is the defining feature of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, the essential dimension and unifying idea that...

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5. The Social History of the Moral Imagination

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pp. 131-154

We have noted how the practice of philanthropy is common to all of the great religions and civilizations of the world. But each culture develops a distinctive philanthropic tradition that reflects other aspects of that society and the unique ways in which the people exercise their culturally shaped moral imaginations.

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6. Philanthropy, Democracy, and the Future

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pp. 155-174

This chapter provides the final piece of our explanation of why philanthropy exists and, moreover, why it should exist. It describes a vital role of philanthropy in society and considers how to ensure the persistence of that role in the future. The first half discusses how philanthropy is essential to a free, open, and democratic society. The second half looks to the future and considers the need to be good stewards of the tradition of philanthropy and to pass it on through...


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pp. 175-196

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Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 197-198

Below is a list of twenty-five books that we recommend for those readers who wish to pursue further the ideas and questions raised in this book.We included some books that cover a particular area of scholarship on philanthropy that is relevant to our view (e.g., philanthropy in history, in literature, in other cultures), many books that summarize and/or theorize the field in general like we do in this book, and some edited volumes containing up-to-date reviews of research on this field. There are a couple classics...


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pp. 199-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000132
E-ISBN-10: 0253000130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253350497

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies