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Dr. Paul Schervish
A new set of vectors now surround donors. Akin to the vectors of physics, these new vectors include the tendency of donors to (1) seek out rather than resist venues for charitable giving, (2) approach their philanthropy entrepreneurially, meaning they seek personally to make a creating and distinctive impact, (3) consider that care for the needs of others is a path for their own self-fulfillment, and (4) view philanthropy as a key ingredient of the financial morality they wish to live and impart to their children. These vectors increasingly become allies, not enemies to overcome. They represent how material and spiritual wherewithal come together as a more important aspect of moral biography for a larger number of individuals. In my view, people are inclined to seek happiness; and therefore live a gospel of life. Second, they are their own best teachers since they have to internalize the meaning and goals of life, including philanthropic decision, for themselves. Finally, there is a new inclination for people to see how their gospel of life is directly connected to financial care and philanthropy: for themselves, their children, their churches, and their world. Why People Give Using the New Physics of Philanthropy? 1) Discernment Discernment in the realm of philanthropy has a two-fold mission: to help people discern from their own perspective their financial capacity and their charitable aspirations, that is their empowerment and moral compass. To accomplish this without the imposition of law, discernment needs to be exercised in an atmosphere of liberty and inspiration. There are several steps in carrying out the conscientious self-reflection and decision making associated with spiritual discernment. First, discernment helps individuals to uncover for themselves their financial capacity by clarifying their resource stream and their expense stream. Discernment around the resource stream clarifies what financial resources are available now and in the future. Discernment around the expense stream clarifies what resources are needed to achieve the standard of living individuals’ desire for themselves and their children. This requires conscientious considerations about current and future consumption. Any positive gap between resources and expenses provides a potential for charitable giving, and relative financial security, and liberates an inclination towards charitable giving. 2) Identification Through hundreds of interviews with wealth holders and middle income individuals, I have found that the key motivation for charitable giving is not selflessness but the identification of self. Our modern notion of altruism was developed in part to counter the utilitarian concept of human nature revolving around the rational calculation of self-interest. A deeper alternative is to think about the quality of self rather than the absence of self. Thomas Aquinas suggests a different way to rethink the issue of self. Rather than eliminating the self, Aquinas speaks instead about the unity of love of God, love of neighbour, and love of self. The key is the identification of my self with the fate of others as if it were my own. 3) Gratitude By probing further into “why people give” with the question, “Why are you grateful?” […]
What is a Moral Biography or Gospel of Life? A moral biography or gospel in an individual’s life occurs at the point of intersection of empowerment and moral compass. For moral compass without empowerment leads to ineffective idealism, while power without moral compass brings arbitrary domination. Aristotle said that the gospel of life is happiness and that closing the gap between where we are now and where we want to be is what creates and expands that happiness. How does one achieve this? According to Aristotle, the gap is closed by wise choices that contain the two elements of a gospel. Choice is essentially capacity or empowerment. Wisdom is the essence of moral compass. Just as empowerment and moral compass are both necessary for a moral biography, Aristotle asserts that the very condition for wisdom as a virtue of character is capacity or freedom of choice. For without freedom, there can be no virtue. At the same time virtue cannot exist without an underlying capacity that bestows the ability to choose. Thus, a moral life is the ability to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be by combining capacity and character. One example of a gospel is the story of Moses. His family has left him on the banks of the Nile so that he will be able to thrive outside the harsh conditions of an enslaved family. Moses is brought into the household of the Pharaoh and becomes the heir apparent. He exercises capacity in the name of the Pharaoh and according to the moral compass of his vice-regency. But in the view of his kin, Moses, despite his capacity, actually lacks moral compass until he learns of his ancestry, abandons his empowerment, and flees to the mountains. There, he regains his moral bearing but works as a shepard with no singular capacity. In the manifestation of the buning bush, the Lord reconstitutes Moses’ moral biography, giving him a new moral compass and the worldly capacity to accomplish it. So equipped, Moses returns to the fray, going miracle for miracle with the Pharaoh, eventually breaking his opponent’s resolve and demonstrating a nobler moral bearing. With moral compass turning into geographic compass, Moses leads his people through the red Sea from the land of slavery to the land flowing with milk and honey. First published in “Better Than Gold: The Moral Biography of Charitable Giving” 2003 WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO DR. PAUL? Paul G. Schervish is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy (CWP) at Boston College. Schervish served as a Fulbright Scholar for the 2000-2001 academic year at University College Cork in the area of research on philanthropy. For the 1999-2000 academic year he was appointed Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. He has been selected five times to the NonProfit Times annual “Power and Influence Top 50,” a list which acknowledges the most […]
Click on Hyperagency and High-Tech Donors: A New Theory of the New Philanthropists to read the article. Presented at the annual ARNOVA conference November, 2003. This paper develops the theoretical concept of hyperagency and applies it to interpret the philanthropy of high-tech donors in particular, and wealthy donors in general.
Click on “Better Than Gold: The Moral Biography of Charitable Giving” to read the article. This presentation focuses on the addition of a third key component for fundraising in congregations in addition to the traditional mission-based and spirituality-based approaches. The mission-based model of stewardship identifies congregational needs and invites the congregation to contribute to meet those needs. The spirituality-based model asks individuals to reflect upon their relationship to God and to develop their inclination to become sacrificial givers to serve God’s needs rather than only meeting particular needs in the church. Although each of these models serve their own vital role, a third model that considers the needs of the donating member is of equal importance. I suggest the voluntary contribution of financial gifts will be most highly motivated and productive where we find the confluence of meeting the needs of the congregation, God, and the donor – what Thomas Aquinas describes as the unity of love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. I discuss three important aspects of the needs of donors that should be taken into account in stewardship efforts. The first aspect is the notion that charitable giving is a practice that helps constitute an individual’s life as a moral biography. The second aspect is the increasing material capacity that is increasingly forming the basis for growth in charitable giving. And finally, the third aspect is the notion that working with the inclinations of donors through a self-reflective process of discernment will make charitable giving more meaningful and more abundant.
Today’s Wealth Holder and Tomorrow’s Giving: The New Dynamics of Wealth and Philanthropy by Paul G. Schervish
Click on Today’s Wealth Holder and Tomorrow’s Giving: The New Dynamics of Wealth and Philanthropy to read the article. Increasing numbers of individuals are approaching, achieving, or even exceeding their financial goals at younger and younger ages. A level of affluence that had been rare has come to characterize large groups and even whole cultures. In the context of an ongoing intergenerational transfer of wealth, the author examines demographic and spiritual trends that are motivating wealth holders to allocate an ever-greater portion of their financial resources to charity.
“The Moral Biography of Wealth: Philosophical Reflections on the Foundation of Philanthropy” by Paul G. Schervish
Click on “The Moral Biography of Wealth: Philosophical Reflections on the Foundation of Philanthropy” to read the article. Moral biography refers to the way all individuals conscientiously combine two elements in daily life: personal capacity and moral compass. Exploring the moral biography of wealth highlights the philosophical foundations of major gifts by major donors. First, the author provides several examples to elucidate his definition of moral biography. Second, he elaborates the elements of a moral biography. Third, he describes the characteristics that make one’s moral biography a spiritual or religious biography. Fourth, he discusses the distinctive characteristics of a moral biography of wealth. Fifth, he suggests that implementing a process of discernment will enable development professionals to work more productively with donors. The author concludes by placing the notion of a moral biography of wealth in historical context and suggests how advancement professionals can deepen their own moral biography by working to deepen the moral biography of their donors.
Click on The Spiritual Secret of Wealth to read the article. A look into the framework of the teaching and learning on generosity and a look into the term moral biography and what it means to individuals.
Click on “Receiving and Giving As Spiritual Exercise” to read the article. Presented as the 2008 Lake Institute Lecture, Paul Schervish offers an examination of receiving and giving as a spiritual exercise.
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