Course Syllabus Focus
Course Syllabus Institution
The scope of this seminar is as broad as the idea of the voluntary society itself, with particular attention to the American version thereof. The central question to be addressed is the extent to which, and how, a large number of people of varying ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds, living together in a country, state, or city, governed by democratically elected officials, can or should rely on organized or unorganized voluntary action by citizens to fulfill both their own individual needs and the needs of their respective communities. In the wake of the September 11th challenges to American society, as well as in the midst of the most serious downturn in the nation’s economy since the Great Depression of the late 20s and early 30s, the role of the not-for-profit sector in bringing Americans together across the lines that divide us is all the more important.
To explore that question we will examine alternative allocations of responsibility for solving particular problems—voluntary, not-for-profit, for-profit, joint public/private, publicly encouraged/subsidized, and publicly coerced—along with examples, reasons, and theories for particular forms of organization. We will probe what it is that motivates donors and volunteers to give money and time, and to assess not only their effectiveness in solving or ameliorating problems but also the comparative praiseworthiness of their respective motives. Private, community and corporate foundations, as well as the tax-exempt organizations to which they and other donors contribute, are part of the inquiry, especially as to their goals, decision rules, governance, and public accountability. We will continuously examine the framework of public policy that embodies public judgments about the desirability of allocating some part of the burden of social problem-solving to voluntary organizations alone or in partnership with public organizations, as well as the tax policies that are crafted to facilitate such problem-solving policies. We will also examine the laws defining the boundaries between permissible and impermissible action by not-for-profits. Because of the growing demand for accountability of the not-for-profit sector in general, and of foundations in particular, we will focus throughout the course on the extent to which foundations are achieving social impact commensurate with the tax benefits they and their donors are receiving. We will also examine the social utility of perpetuity in foundations as opposed to a more rapid distribution to society of foundation assets than the usual minimum payout of 5% of asset value. Finally, we will address a more recent concern in the not-for-profit sector—prevention of terrorist funding through foundations and other not-for-profit organizations.