To help us kick off the year, we’re highlighting one of the newest faculty members, Dr. Laurie Paarlberg, the Charles Stewart Mott Chair on Community Foundations and professor of philanthropic studies.
Educational experience: B.S. Agricultural Economics, Minor in Community Development, Purdue University; Ph.D. Public Affairs with concentrations in Public Policy and Public Management, Indiana University
Previous experience: Assistant professor, San Francisco State University; Assistant and associate professor, University of North Carolina Wilmington; Associate professor, Texas A&M University
Research interests/areas of study: Community philanthropy; community impact and public grant making; equity, diversity, and community grant making; rural philanthropy
Introduction to the study of philanthropy: After an extensive career working in the nonprofit sector, Paarlberg had moved to Bloomington, Indiana with her husband and directed a nonprofit program there. When the program grew exponentially, she realized that she needed to go back to school.
“I thought I’d go back and get my master’s degree. While I was there, I started asking questions about the why. ‘What’s going on with public policy? Why do nonprofits act this way?’ So the theory became of much greater interest to me.
“I was also fortunate to have Dr. (Kirsten) Grønbjerg as a professor, and received encouragement from her to pursue a Ph.D.”
How she began studying community foundations: “I began my academic career at San Francisco State University. When we moved, my daughter enrolled in an urban, low-income high school. She joined the wrestling team, but they had no money and couldn’t attend any meets. So, my husband and I funded the team for a year.
“It made us question, ‘we were able to fund this team, but what about the other schools’ teams?’ With a colleague, I began to look at private funding of local schools.
“That led me to exploring what community means for philanthropy and the intersection between community and philanthropy, which then led me to conduct research on United Way.
“Community philanthropy has been a consistent theme throughout my research, whether in San Francisco, in Wilmington building capacity for rural nonprofits with local leaders, or conducting further research at Texas A&M University.
Classes she has taught/will teach: During the past fall semester, Paarlberg taught the course ‘Philanthropy and Civic Engagement’ for undergraduates, a new experience for her.
“Younger students are fun because you begin to talk about something that resonates with them, and then all of a sudden, you see a lightbulb go on,” she explained.
This spring, she’s teaching doctoral candidates about the research process while preparing them for their dissertations.
Paarlberg also teaches a class on nonprofits and public policy for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
What is the value of a degree from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy? “It’s vital to have that foundational understanding of what philanthropy is, what service to others is, what altruism is, and then how we and others act it out.
“What I like about the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is that we approach it from a multi-disciplinary perspective. It’s not only about how you do it, but the why and building the classical understanding of the practice.”
Goals for research/classes here: She hopes to build knowledge and understanding around community philanthropy.
“There’s a broad body of research that looks at the relationship between place, community, and philanthropy. So I have a current project that’s underway where we’re studying volunteering, particularly rural volunteering.
“My community foundation research studies changes in community philanthropy. Right now we are exploring changes in the United Way system and community foundations and how the two organizations relate to each other in local communities.”
Future of study of philanthropy: “We’re seeing more critical perspectives of philanthropy. Foundational questions have arisen, such as, ‘what’s the role of philanthropy in a democracy? What’s the role of philanthropy in an economy, and how does it connect to economic development? What role does philanthropy play in public policy setting? What are the sources of legitimacy for and the power structures within philanthropy? When should we question the legitimacy of philanthropic decision makers?’
“In the long run, we’re going to question the role of philanthropy in society, and what it should be.
“I believe it’s a field of study where we’re going to move past understanding why philanthropy happens to the consequences of philanthropy in our society.”
Fun fact/free time: Paarlberg enjoys biking, walking and exploring Indianapolis, trying new restaurants, reading, cooking, and gardening. “I like to stay busy!” she laughed.
Final thought: “I’m figuring out the role that the Mott Chair is going to play at the school and how we can use this position to help build not only the study and teaching of community philanthropy, but to also better connect practice to academia and our basic knowledge.”
We have faculty interested in topics ranging from international and comparative philanthropy, to higher education and workplace giving, to the psychology of giving and the effects of gratitude, to social science investigations of charitable giving. Read some of our previous features on them and their diverse interests, or learn more about our other faculty members.