Our meeting site this year at the home of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy provides an ideal
setting to explore afresh the larger question of what is philanthropy, and how do we encourage a broad
and diverse approach to understanding philanthropy in theory and in practice?
Some would argue that "philanthropy” is both a core and an overarching concept for the fields of study
ARNOVA embraces. Robert Payton’s definition of philanthropy as "voluntary action for the common good”
is contested, but has long been cited to describe such a view. Others would argue the concept of philanthropy
is archaic. In recent years it has often been reduced to a synonym for giving, especially organized or
institutional giving. Nevertheless, some vision of or connection to philanthropy underpins all that we study
in examining nonprofit organizations and voluntary action.
The nonprofit and voluntary sector, or social economy, embraces a societal space where many different
approaches to increasing the welfare of humankind have been adopted. From grassroots groups to storefront
nonprofit organizations to large nonprofit hospitals and universities, the rich variety of forms that people
employ in collective action to promote well-being and change vary across the sector. How can the research
and teaching we do support a rich and vibrant ‘independent’ sector and a healthy civil society? There are also
a multiplicity of ways through which people give time and money—in congregations, workplace giving,
private foundations, organized volunteering programs, national and civic service. What are we learning about
new ways of incorporating people into philanthropy, while maintaining existing structures and practices?
Exploring questions like these will be one focus for our Conference next November. We hope to
encourage a public conversation about matters of such importance to our fields. One track will be devoted to
this Conference theme to create a shared exploration of these ideas, issues, and questions. While we also have
tracks focused on specific techniques and issues of fundraising and giving and volunteering, we encourage
papers considering larger or fundamental questions about practices, meanings, traditions, structures, and
visions of "philanthropy” –from the social sciences and the humanities—to submit to the conference track.