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“Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given” – Mother Teresa

Trying to get students enrolled in the courses he funds to think about “philanthropy” in a different way, Geoffrey P. Raynor supposedly suggested that the charitable service of Mother Teresa was purely out of “self-interest.” Although correcting the record in a later interview that this suggestion was merely an intellectual exercise meant to challenge the students’ thoughts on altruism, it nevertheless intimates much about Raynor’s thinly veiled utilitarianism.

This past week the New York Times featured an article discussing Raynor’s classes. Raynor, a forty-six-year-old hedge fund manager, has funded a number of philanthropy courses at leading universities such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Northwestern. As a part of his course, students are granted $50,000 and “taught” how to give it away. According to one summary, the course teaches students to “investigate nonprofit organizations” and, according to another source, the course teaches students the importance of “working together.” One instructor at Northwestern has commented, “Some [students] say they thought it was easy to give away money. . . . Until they take this class. Then they realize how hard it is.”

With philanthropy this narrowly defined, it should no surprise that the following represents Raynor’s views on philanthropy:

It is all about making ethical choices about how to do good. . . . There is only one seat on the lifeboat. Who do you save?

Apart from the off-putting assumptions embedded within the course model --- viz., that these top-tier students are going to be wealthy (or that they should be wealthy), that strategic philanthropy is the best philanthropy, and that donors should have a God complex --- it is the exclusive focus of “philanthropy” as spending that is most troubling. Although an important skill to acquire for the nation’s wealthiest, most of the course’s students will not likely be presented with similar opportunities. Instead, perhaps, students ought to be taught a more comprehensive approach to philanthropy --- one that involves the art of spending, but is joined by volunteering, community action, and local acts of charity.

In fact, one Yale student, Adrienne Le, concurs with this assessment:

At this point, we should not be encouraging students to learn how to give monetarily. . . . We really should be encouraging students to be the creative people who will be doing good work on the ground.

Millennials, echoing Adrienne Le’s concerns, recognize the course’s shortcomings. If philanthropy involves Time, Talent, Treasure, Voice, and Network, as the Case Foundation suggests millennials define the term, then the course’s exclusive emphasis on treasure undeniably comes up short.

Perhaps students’ time would be better spent joining things, particularly outside the classroom.

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