Understanding Philanthropy

Understanding Philanthropy

Its Meaning and Mission
Robert L. Payton and Michael P. Moody
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/26/2008
ISBN: 978-0-253-00013-2
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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.

Author Bio

Robert L. Payton (1927-2011) was president of C.W. Post College and Hofstra University, a State Department official, ambassador to Cameroon, head of the Exxon Education Foundation, and was the first director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. He is author of Philanthropy: Voluntary Action for the Public Good.

Michael P. Moody is Assistant Professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California. He is a cultural sociologist whose work focuses on the theory and practice of philanthropy.


“Why does philanthropy exist? Why do people often turn to philanthropy when we want to make the world a better place? What is philanthropy? Weaving together accessible theoretical explanations with fascinating examples of philanthropic action, this book is useful for students, scholars, and practitioners alike.”

“Robert Payton's decades of philanthropic leadership and humanistic reflection and Michael Moody's social science skills and recent research combine to make Understanding Philanthropy a must-read. This wise and well-written book is one of the best recent publications on philanthropy.”
 — Michael O'Neill, University of San Francisco

“A bold, thoroughly informed inquiry that challenges readers to think more deeply about the meaning and mission of good works. Written in clear, incisive language, Understanding Philanthropy helps us to understand the multiplicity of philanthropic acts and the fact that we are all affected by them.”
 — Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University

“There is no one in the country better qualified than Bob Payton to write on this subject. He has more experience in the field and a broader and more sophisticated set of perspectives on it than anyone else I can think of. . . . And there's no one else who has a better chance of educating the broader public as well.”
 — J. B. Schneewind, Johns Hopkins University

“. . . Payton and Moody write that scholars and practitioners need to present a more sophisticated explanation of the unique contributions philanthropy makes or should make. And the field needs to be considered 'warts and all': confronting honestly and fairly the bad as well as the good, the failures as well as the successes. March 2009”
 — Doug Rule, Aspen Institute's Aspen Philanthropy Letter

“. . . [T]his unlikely pair has produced a fine volume on the moral meaning and function of philanthropy. Payton has long been an advocate of the moral purposes of philanthropy, and this thoughtful volume makes the case that philanthropy is essential to democratic society. The authors also argue that the subject of philanthropy needs to be incorporated into the collegiate curriculum so that Americans can become more understanding of this crucial element of their political and social heritage. The book is carefully researched and very nicely written. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.April 2009”
 — Choice

“Payton and Moody’s book is an extended argument that philanthropy is an interesting and important subject that deserves to be better understood and to be taken more seriously. . . . [The book] advocates better understanding of philanthropy as the surest route to defending its essential roles in key democratic tasks such as defining, advocating and achieving the public good, advancing the general welfare and responding when things go wrong. September 2008”
 — Beth Breeze, Publications Editor

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: Why This Book?
2. Voluntary Action for the Public Good
3. Because Things Go Wrong: Philanthropy as a Response to the Human Problematic
4. The World Can Be Made Better: Philanthropy as Moral Action
5. The Social History of the Moral Imagination
6. Philanthropy, Democracy, and the Future
Suggestions for Further Reading