6 of the Top Institutions for Philanthropy Research

6 of the Top Institutions for Philanthropy Research


Andrew CarnegieThough Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller stood out as among the most generous philanthropists of their day, today they would be just two of the hundreds of active donors giving at their level. This trend has driven universities to begin establishing programs for the study of philanthropy, a social and economic phenomenon of multiple dimensions. Leaders of the movement hold academic posts mainly in the United States as well as in parts of Europe.

As the field gains momentum, more and more scholars have the opportunity to make a name for themselves. However, many experts question how to best pursue philanthropy in academia, due to the subject’s interdisciplinary appeal. Concerns include finding optimal research models and motivating graduate students to focus their interest on the subject.

Pointing to the recent surge in research and publications about philanthropy, experts say the field appears to be growing at a sustainable rate. The progress is due in part to the pioneering efforts of institutions and programs such as the following six:

  1. Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

The leading institution of its kind, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy traces its history back to 1987, when the school started out as the Center on Philanthropy and quickly grew by hosting various colloquia and conferences. In 1993 the school approved an MA program and instituted a PhD program 10 years later. As of 2010, undergraduates can pursue a bachelor’s degree in philanthropic studies.

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy officially opened in 2013. It includes eight separate centers for studying different aspects of the phenomenon. The school supports this diversity by staffing its faculty with scholars from various backgrounds such as business, sociology, and law. Amir Pasic, the current dean, holds a PhD in political science.

Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has served as a platform for launching related groups, such as the International Society for Third-Sector Research and the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. Between Indiana University and fellow institutions, the first generation of scholars with a PhD in philanthropic studies is now active in the field.

  1. Science of Philanthropy Initiative – University of Chicago

Launched within the last decade, the Science of Philanthropy Initiative takes a quantitative research approach to better understanding philanthropy. The John Templeton Foundation funds the initiative, which is intended to assist policy makers and philanthropists maximize their responsibilities and efforts.

Based at the University of Chicago, the Science of Philanthropy Initiative features a full leadership team, headed by John List, a leading scholar in the field. The research team comprises faculty consultants, specialists, and postdoctoral scholars. One example of the studies conducted by these members is an investigation into the neurodevelopment of adolescents that influences their outlook on morality and capacity for empathy.


The Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, or ARNOVA, has created a network for scholars, educators, and philanthropists around the world, and holds a conference for its members each year.

Starting out in 1971 as the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars, ARNOVA has since grown into a leading organization in its field. The group features six sections of emphasis, ranging from social entrepreneurship to the development of theory.  ARNOVA also publishes its own journal and actively shares the latest advances in philanthropic study through its newsletter.

  1. ISTR

The International Society for Third-Sector Research (ISTR) formed in 1992, and its focus has been on philanthropy, civil society, and the nonprofit sector as a whole. ISTR operates on the international level, promoting research and education through its five regional networks.

ISTR also hosts regular conferences to help disseminate knowledge, and the next international meeting with take place in Amsterdam in 2018. VOLUNTAS, the society’s official journal, circulates six times each year, offering the latest in research, theory developments, and book reviews.

  1. Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society

In 2006 the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) opened, welcoming its first group of PhD fellows. The center invites students, scholars, and professionals in the philanthropy sector to collaborate on research projects.

One of the unique components of Stanford PACS is its newly developed Digital Civil Society Lab (DCS), whose vision includes bridging the gap between leaders in civil society and technology to uncover greater resources for advancing the field.

  1. ERNOP

Instituted in 2008, the European Research Network on Philanthropy, known as ERNOP, has assembled a membership of nearly 200 from 22 countries. The organization is a subset of ISTR and aims to “promote excellence in philanthropic research in Europe.”

To strengthen its contributions to the field, ERNOP draws on the experience, knowledge, and interests of academic researchers from a variety of backgrounds. This diversity allows for a greater representation among journals and other publications, and it enables the network to expand throughout Europe.


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