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New Physics of Philanthropy by Dr. Paul Schervish

Paul Schervish Lobby


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?” donors will invariably report their experiences of blessing, gift, luck, fortune, or grace for which they have not been responsible and did nothing to deserve. 


First published in “Better Than Gold: The Moral Biography of Charitable Giving” 2003 







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 effective leaders in the non-profit world.


He received a bachelor’s degree in classical and comparative literature from the University of Detroit, a Masters in sociology from Northwestern University, a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Amplify the money you give | Kat Rosqueta

Amplify the money you give | Kat Rosqueta




The word “philanthropist” evokes the names of billionaire donors – Rockefeller, Gates, Pew – but in reality, most charitable giving comes from regular people giving smaller amounts. How can you, the non-billionaire, do the most good with what you give? Kat Rosqueta shows how to become a high-impact philanthropist, with a few tips for getting more engaged with your donations – one dollar, one cause, at a time.

Kat Rosqueta wants to reclaim the word “philanthropist.” She believes the word is not just for Rockefellers; rather, a philanthropist is anyone who gives money, time or skill with the goal of helping make the world better, at any scale.
Rosqueta is the founding executive director of The Center for High Impact Philanthropy, part of the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) at the University of Pennsylvania. Her group works to collect and report data from charities, to show philanthropists how well they are doing at giving. Beyond simple metrics like staff overhead, everyone wants to know: does our chosen charity make a difference?

Chuck Feeney – Recipient Of The Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award For Philanthropy

Chuck Feeney: Recipient Of The Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award For Philanthropy


Warren Buffett commends the founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, an organization that has pledged more than $6.5 billion in grants to promote education, health, peace and human dignity throughout the world. 

Bill and Melinda Gates: Why giving away our wealth has been the most satisfying thing we’ve done

Bill and Melinda Gates: Why giving away our wealth has been the most satisfying thing we’ve done


In 1993, Bill and Melinda Gates—then engaged—took a walk on a beach in Zanzibar, and made a bold decision on how they would make sure that their wealth from Microsoft went back into society. In a conversation with Chris Anderson, the couple talks about their work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as about their marriage, their children, their failures and the satisfaction of giving most of their wealth away. 

ARTHUR M. BLANK on The Giving Pledge

ARTHUR M. BLANK on The Giving Pledge


arthur m blank

“Now, as I approach my 70th birthday, I am more committed than ever to making a difference through philanthropy. The needs in our society are more profound than at any point in my lifetime. The gap between rich and poor in America is growing. Philanthropy alone cannot repair all of the social injustice in our country or the world. It can, however, inspire good will, spark innovation and provide thought leadership.”



Philanthropy – A Conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou

Philanthropy – A Conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou


Northern Trust’s Director of Philanthropic Services Marguerite Griffin talks to Dr. Maya Angelou at the National Museum for Women in the Arts on the importance of philanthropy. 

Spanx Billionaire Sara Blakely On Giving Her Fortune Away

Spanx Billionaire Sara Blakely On Giving Her Fortune Away


sara blakely


Installing Values In Children Through Playtime Activities: Michael Bakas

Installing Values In Children Through Playtime Activities: Michael Bakas



Michael Bakas is a Materials Scientist with a Ph.D in Ceramic and Materials Engineering from Rutgers University. He is an active member of Toastmasters International and recently won the District 15 Humorous Speech Contest in Boise, ID. Bakas hails from the great state of New Jersey, and currently lives and works in Idaho Falls, ID.


Inventing Digital Civil Society: Lucy Bernholz

Inventing Digital Civil Society: Lucy Bernholz

Lucy Bernholz is a philanthropy wonk. She is trying to understand how we create, fund, and distribute shared social goods in the digital age — what she calls The Future of Good. She writes extensively on philanthropy, technology, information, and policy on her award-winning blog, philanthropy2173.com. This work led The Huffington Post to hail her as a “game changer.” In 2011 Bernholz sold her company, Blueprint Research + Design, to Arabella Advisors.

Bernholz is a visiting scholar at the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, a Fellow with the Hybrid Reality Institute and former Fellow of the New America Foundation. Among other advisory roles, Bernholz serves on the Board of The Craigslist Foundation, on the NeXii Industry Standards and Advisory Board, and is an advisor to the Center for Digital Information. She is a frequent conference speaker and an oft-quoted media source for NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economic Times of India. She is the author of numerous articles and books about the business of giving, including the Blueprint Series of Annual Industry Forecasts on Philanthropy and Social Investing, the 2010 publication Disrupting Philanthropy, and her 2004 book Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets: The Deliberate Evolution. She has a B.A. from Yale University, where she played field hockey and captained the lacrosse team, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.


Living A Family Philanthropic Legacy: Conversation with Anne Springs Close

Living A Family Philanthropic Legacy: Conversation with Anne Springs Close

Moderated by: Virginia Esposito, President of the National Center for Family Philanthropy

An intimate conversation with Mrs. Anne Springs Close, Chairman of The Springs Close Foundation, who will share her experiences, challenges, surprises, and lessons learned in philanthropy. This conversation will inspire philanthropists who shape the social sector and work to leave behind similar legacies of charitable success and generosity.


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