Why Do We Care? The American Tradition of Philanthropy

Course Syllabus Focus

Social Sector

Course Syllabus Institution

Indiana University
Lenkowsky, Leslie

In 2009, a year in which the United States economy suffered from one the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression, Americans gave over $300 billion to charities, more than one of every 50 dollars they produced. Nearly 64 million Americans over the age of 16 volunteered, 26.8 percent of the population. Within a month after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, more than three-quarters of a billion dollars had been donated for the relief effort in the United States, about as much as was contributed after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in a comparable period of time.
Examples of American generosity such as these are not hard to find and usually stand in sharp contrast to how people in other countries behave. This course will examine why Americans care as much as they seem to, the various ways in which philanthropy in the United States occurs, what it has accomplished, and the challenges it faces. Readings will be drawn from a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines and a comparative perspective used to highlight significant differences (and similarities) with other countries.

Blog Posts

More on time, value, and time limits

February 19, 2018

A new report applies a theory of time and value in philanthropy to three real cases, to see how a foundation could decide whether to operate with a limited life, based on the amount and kind of value it hopes to create.


Oct 05

Rip Rapson
President and CEO
The Kresge Foundation