The Giving Tree

May 13th, 2010

I accept that my alma mater is known for its liberal leanings, but I was disappointed to learn that Brown is now changing the definitions of philanthropy and generosity ("A Lesson in Generosity," Elms, March/April). When did generosity become a measure of how one spends another person's money?

The terms philanthropy and generosity describe the donor's behavior, not the recipient's objectives or the spender's intentions. The students in The Practice of Philanthropy are being taught how to spend other people's money on the causes they deem most deserving. Sociology professor Ann Dill, who teaches the course, admits that most of the students "are activists," and thus will be applying for grants. Unfortunately, this will not meet Brown trustee Marty Granoff's goal of creating "a new generation of philanthropists." The course is creating another generation of beggars.

If Professor Dill truly wanted to teach philanthropy and generosity, she would require that the students actually earn the money they wish to donate to their causes. This traditional definition of philanthropy would give the students greater investment in the cause, connect them more closely with their efforts, and teach them the true joy of giving generously. And perhaps it would stop perpetuating the current problem of modern liberalism, where well-meaning "activists" find plenty of ways to spend other people's money.

Jonathan F. Bastian '89
Lexington, Ky.


Liberal and conservative activists both benefit from the largesse of philanthropists, who themselves have a wide range of political views. And if people who give out money were restricted to giving out only money they had earned themselves, philanthropy might not survive. People who earn a lot of money often set up foundations in part because they trust professionals will do a better job of administering the actual business of soliciting, judging, and funding proposals. Spending other people's money is precisely what foundation administrators do. As the article stated, students in Professor Dill's class are in part learning how those professionals operate and think. Similarly, if any of Dill's students are fortunate enough to have money to give out, learning to recognize a well-developed proposal should help them spread their wealth with more confidence that the money will be well spent.—Editor

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Related Issue
May/June 2010