Why Political Scientists Should Study Organized Philanthropy

We recognize that perhaps our greatest accomplishment—with the exception of the kids we raise—will not come from businesses we've started, but from the help we provide to people and causes around the world. We believe, with the others who have signed this Pledge that we are truly on the cusp of life-changing achievements that will improve our collective quality of life, and have an everlasting impact on generations to come.
-Excerpt from Liz and Eric Lefkofsky’s Giving Pledge, source: Givingpledge.org


 

The persuasive role of large donors in politics is under frequent media spotlight in this distinctive Presidential election year. In the July 2016 issue of Political Science and Politics, the philanthropic capacity and interests of billionaire donors is featured in a Political Symposium led by Duke University’s Professor Kristin Goss. Goss’s study examines the giving trends of nearly 200 individuals or families sourced from the Giving Pledge, Foundation Center, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy and calculates that the total giving capacity of this collective is, at a minimum, over $1.2 trillion. This massive sum is roughly equivalent to one-third of U.S. government spending in 2014, or the 16th largest national economy in the world.

Over half of these donors influence policy by giving direct to charities, advocacy-group formation, or issue-specific electoral spending. To what causes were these major donors contributing? The most popular charitable recipients were overwhelmingly education-oriented causes, followed by government operations, civil rights issues, family issues, energy and the environment, and international affairs.

Professor Goss’s work identifies limitations with researching charitable giving: namely, that that financial information is not always easily traceable for high net worth individuals. Goss closes with a reminder of a rising tide of powerful new tools and institutions in philanthropy, an opportunity relevant for researchers and non-profit professionals alike.

Kristin A. Goss is the feature editor of this Political Symposium and is joined by six other academic contributors. Her article is titled 'Policy Plutocrats: How America’s Wealthy Seek to Influence Governance'. Ms. Goss is an associate professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Her research interests include firearms and crime, gun control, nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and US politics.
 

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