Philanthropy and the Wild West

As technology changes the way we communicate, connect, create, consume and innovate, it is democratizing access to opportunity. Education is no exception. New models of learning are emerging and MOOCs (massive open online courses) are reshaping the pedagogical landscape. In short, we’re watching education’s transformation — and philanthropy must be a driving force in that process.

As technology breaks down the physical barriers of college campuses, the extraordinary intellectual capital of the educator community is becoming available to anyone committed to learning — regardless of age, income or location. Yet while many disciplines are benefiting, the philanthropy component is missing. Filling that gap is my purpose in launching Giving 2.0 ProjectU today.

With 13 years of teaching philanthropy at Stanford Graduate School of Business behind me, I’ve designed Giving 2.0 ProjectU as an open-source initiative that will make 100 percent of my research, case studies and teaching materials available for free online to any educator wanting to teach philanthropy and any student wanting to learn about it.

Giving 2.0 ProjectU has three simple goals:

1) To provide any college or university educator with everything they need to teach a strategic philanthropy course.

2) To pave the way for philanthropy to become a required course for college students and to make it as easy as possible for colleges and universities to integrate it into their curricula.

3) To provide any giver (donating any amount of time, money, experience, skills or networks) with free access to the research, learning and experience I’ve developed over the last two decades as a strategic philanthropist.

I hope others may do the same — for if we can equip the philanthropic community with the knowledge and experience to turbo-charge their giving efforts, we can really start to tackle the world’s problems.

In the U.S., the philanthropic community is supremely generous. Last year alone, 64 million Americans volunteered, 65 percent of households made a financial gift and collectively individuals, foundations and corporations gave $298 billion (with individuals making up 82 percent of those gifts).

Yet 65 percent of individual giving is based purely on emotion, with no research conducted on the gifts’ potential impact. I see this as massively untapped potential. Imagine if tens of thousands of student givers could freely access tools to make their gifts go further. How many more lives could be transformed? How many seemingly intractable social problems could be solved?

When I started teaching at Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2000, no field-based courses in strategic philanthropy existed. Today, roughly 125 to 150 university courses teach students philanthropy[1]. At best, these courses touch a few thousand of the 13.7 million college students[2] enrolled in almost 2,800 four-year colleges[3] during the 2012-2013 academic year. But while more are emerging, they merely scratch the surface of the potential to educate and inspire all young people to become life-long strategic philanthropists.

Meanwhile, new generations are shifting their approach to philanthropy and are hungry for knowledge on strategic giving. Rather than simply writing a check, today’s philanthropists want to give based on informed assessments of the impact each gift will have. They want to track how their gifts are making a tangible, measurable difference. And they want to get the “biggest bang for their philanthropic buck.”

Unfortunately, the knowledge needed to make these assessments and track the progress of gifts is not always readily available. Students are starved of practical tools with which to increase their social impact. Meanwhile, professors and lecturers teaching philanthropy need content modules, real-world case studies, class exercises, new ways to present emerging ideas and questions that will enhance students’ critical thinking about social innovation.

In short, there is huge demand for philanthropic knowledge and tools, and vastly insufficient supply to meet this critical need. By making all my materials freely available through Giving 2.0 ProjectU, I am on a mission to extend philanthropy education to colleges globally and far beyond campus walls.

When it comes to philanthropy, open access to education and learning will empower givers to help transform the lives of individuals and develop new models for social change. We cannot make educational materials proprietary — it would be antithetical to our educational and social mission and the very purpose of the philanthropic field.

This is an exciting time in academia — a Wild West era for education. And as the technology revolution meets the evolving needs of students and educators, I plan to do everything I can to make philanthropy a driving force in that revolution.

1 – Estimate based on Stanford University Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society database on philanthropy in higher education and Damast, Alison, ” Philanthropy Gains Eager Followers in B-Schools,” Businessweek, 17 August (2011). Web.

2 – William J Hussar, National Center for Education Statistics and Tabitha M. Bailey, IHS Global Insight, Projections of Education Statistics to 2021. 9 January (2013) Web. “In Fall 2012…Some 8.1 million students are expected to attend public 4-year institutions, and about 5.6 million will attend private 4-year institutions.”

3 – U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001), Table 5. Web.