By Andrea Pactor, M.A.‘03
When I started my master’s degree program at the Center on Philanthropy in 2001, I had no idea philanthropic studies was such a new field.
The 1970s and 80s were a fertile time for experimentation in academia. By the mid-1980s, new academic programs such as women’s studies, American studies, and African American studies had emerged, organized around a problem rather than a methodological method.
As the nonprofit sector became more formally organized with new approaches and new ideas, John Gardner founded Independent Sector in 1976 and its research committee, chaired by Robert Payton, was designed to create the field of philanthropy research.
Mr. Payton, a former vice chancellor for development, U.S. ambassador, president of two universities, and foundation president, was recruited to Indiana University (IUPUI) in 1988 as the first director of the Center on Philanthropy.
Reflections on a 30-year journey
Payton brought a big vision to establish the field of philanthropic studies as an interdisciplinary endeavor that would be infused across liberal arts departments. Dwight Burlingame was among his first hires in 1989; his role beginning in 1990 was to create the academic and research program at the center. No small task!
Dwight’s retirement at the end of December 2020 prompted this reflection on his 30-year journey to establish this academic field with an interdisciplinary approach. While Mr. Payton and he were pivotal pioneers in the early days, others including Center directors Warren Ilchman, Gene Tempel, and Patrick Rooney contributed significantly to its growth.
Anyone who meets Dwight Burlingame quickly becomes aware of his encyclopedic knowledge of philanthropy, yet it is his fourth career. He earned a Ph.D. in library science from Florida State University, expertise that he would leverage to help build the philanthropic studies infrastructure.
Prior to becoming one of the architects of the new field of philanthropic studies at IU, he had also served as a dean and vice president at Bowling Green State University. Along with being an educator throughout his career, books, editing, and writing are among his passions. As one example, he is the editor of the three volume Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (2004).
At the start, Dwight analyzed new academic fields to understand their trajectory. He looked at sociology and social work to learn how those fields grew and developed distinct curricula. His own experience with library science also informed direction for the new philanthropic studies field.
For example, the first courses in library science were offered in 1887; the Ph.D. was not offered until 43 years later, in 1930. In contrast, at the Center on Philanthropy, the first Ph.D. courses began in 2003 with the first Ph.D.s awarded in 2008, only 16 years after the Center’s founding.
Developing support for the new interdisciplinary endeavor required many meetings. Dwight recalls a plethora of meetings and lunches with IU faculty across disciplines to discuss a philanthropic studies curriculum and to seek faculty who would be advocates for the fledgling endeavor.
At the same time, Dwight and colleagues created five core philanthropic studies courses (PHST), including the introductory P521, which he taught for 30 years until his retirement. As an example of how the field has grown and added more research and resources, Dwight said that only a few readings have remained constant in that curriculum for three decades.
Research on philanthropy was central to building a credible academic field. In the early years, the Center on Philanthropy awarded research grants to faculty across the country for studies on philanthropy. In addition, the Center awarded curriculum development grants to faculty at IU to develop philanthropy-related courses. The result was the desired interdisciplinary approach with faculty from a range of disciplines including history, political science, sociology, nonprofit studies, philosophy, and public affairs teaching about philanthropy.
The Center grew into the School of Philanthropy in 2012 and hired its own faculty but continues to maintain strong ties with faculty across the university’s eight campuses. Today, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy research grants are available only to its faculty.
Joseph and Matthew Payton Philanthropic Studies Library
Building this field required a library. Today’s students may think the philanthropic studies library was always there. That is not the case. Mr. Payton, shortly after his arrival at the Center in 1988, created a half-time position in the university’s library to create the philanthropic studies collection. This collection now holds more than 50,000 volumes, including Mr. Payton’s vast personal collection.
An archives was also needed. The philanthropy archives started shortly after Dwight arrived on campus. The first collections were from Independent Sector, Ketchum and other fundraising firms, NSFRE (now AFP), nonprofits, and a bit later the foundation archives.
With the library and archives under one roof and with a designated fund to support researchers to use the archives, the philanthropic studies infrastructure took shape and the field grew.
To enhance the visibility and credibility of philanthropic studies as an academic field, Mr. Payton persuaded the IU Press to start a philanthropic and nonprofit studies series. “Dwight and I would be happy to do this,” Dwight recalled Mr. Payton saying at the time. In the ensuing 30 years, Dwight edited 53 books for this series. He co-edited New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising from 1994-2000; this series raised credibility among practitioners.
Dwight’s many other contributions do not stop there. He contributed to the field’s growth with ARNOVA, ISTR, and philanthropic studies programs around the globe. He has mentored countless students over the years. Each contribution is instrumental to the development and rapid acceptance of philanthropic studies as a viable, robust, and important multidisciplinary academic discipline.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Dwight whether he planned to write a memoir about his 30-year journey in philanthropic studies now that he did not have to grade papers and exams. He smiled and said, “No. The records are all in the archives for someone else to examine.”
It will be up to a new generation of philanthropic studies faculty and leaders to reflect on this history and to determine the field’s direction for the next 30 years.
Andrea Pactor, M.A.’03, is the former associate director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.