Wealth and the Commonwealth
  Research on Cultural Life in an Age of Affluence 2003: no. 4  


A. PREVIOUS ISSUE: "The Largest Wealth Transfer in History is Still on Track"

B. THIS ISSUE'S FEATURED RESEARCH: "The New Physics of Philanthropy: The Spiritual Side of the Supply Side"

Vector 1: Donors as Hyperagents

Vector 2: Schools of Identification and Association

Vector 3: Discernment and Donor-Centered Fundraising

C. MEDIA: "More Than Money Journal" interviews Paul Schervish on the Meaning of a Gospel of Wealth

A. PREVIOUS ISSUE: "The Largest Wealth Transfer in History is Still on Track"

After a year of fielding questions about how the economic downturn might affect their predictions of a $41 trillion wealth transfer estimate before 2052, John Havens and Paul Schervish, reviewed their findings in the light of this and eight other challenges.

The principal conclusion of the report published this January in the "Journal of Gift Planning" is that the $41 trillion estimate remains valid as a 2% growth estimate, even in light of recessionary growth, depressed stock market, longer life spans, and a number of other factors.

"The news should come as a great relief to universities and charities across the country who expanded their development offices and overhauled their staff in response to our prediction that $6 trillion would be bequeathed to charity over the next 50 years," said SWRI Director, Paul Schervish.

Read more about the wealth transfer validity study . . .

   Dear Colleagues:

I am pleased to send you the fourth issue of a periodic update on our research at the Social Welfare Research Institute on wealth and philanthropy. This completes the coverage of the New Physics of Philanthropy, begun in "Wealth and the Commonwealth" no. 2. In that previous volume we talked about the material side of the supply side, that is, the fact that wealth and growth in wealth incline donors toward greater charitable giving. In this edition we look at the spiritual side of the new physics of philanthropy, by which we mean the array of motivations and methodologies that incline wealth holders to use their wealth on behalf of the commonwealth. We focus on a selection of three of these vectors: hyperagency, the motives of identification and association, and the methodologies of discernment and donor-centered fundraising. These are forces that donors, fundraisers, and financial advisors can work with to improve the quality and quantity of philanthropy.

We hope "Wealth and the Commonwealth" will help provide some added meaning and practical benefit for you in your good work. If you would like to be removed from our mailing list, please reply to this message with the word "Remove" in the subject line or click the "Unsubscribe" link below. As is always the case, we welcome your feedback.

Paul Schervish, Director, SWRI

  • B. THIS ISSUE'S FEATURED RESEARCH: "The New Physics of Philanthropy: The Spiritual Side of the Supply Side"
  •   After the previous issue on the material side of the supply side, the question still remains just how to tap such financial potential in a way that draws on the inclination of wealth holders to find a path that combines their care for others with their own pursuit of happiness. In this article we present our answer to that remaining question and suggest two implications of our ideas for fundraising.

    First, we differentiate between the demand-side and supply-side approaches for motivating wealth holders to make charitable contributions. The two approaches share the common goal of linking a supply of donor dollars to the demand of recipient needs. In fulfilling that goal, the demand-side approach not only emphasizes the demand of needs; it tends to be demanding in tone as well. In contrast, the supply-side approach tends to spur the allocation of dollars to fulfilling needs by drawing on the inclinations of donors to care about the issues and people with whom they identify and to desire to effect change in the world around them. Second, we turn to the first implication of the supply-side approach, which is to approach donors as knowledgeable decision makers who are to be tutored through a process of personal discernment rather than instructed how much to give and to whom. Third, we address the second implication of the supply- side perspective, and consider how even a relatively encompassing repeal of the estate tax will not necessarily generate a negative effect on charitable giving. In the conclusion, we summarize our overall argument and discuss how it is situated within a larger material and cultural terrain, namely the dialectics of wealth and philanthropy in an age of affluence.

    Download "New Physics of Philanthropy: The Spiritual Side of the Supply Side" (pdf)

  • Vector 1: Donors as Hyperagents
  •   Hyperagency refers to the enhanced capacity of wealthy individuals to establish or substantially control the conditions under which they and others live. For most individuals, agency is limited to choosing among and acting within the constraints of those situations in which they find themselves. As monarchs of agency, the wealthy can transcend such constraints and, for good or for ill, create for themselves a world of their own design.

    Whenever we ask wealth holders to identify the most important attribute of wealth, their answer is invariably the same: freedom. What is different for wealth holders is that they can legitimately be more confident about actualizing their expectations and aspirations because they can directly effect the fulfillment of their desires. Wealth holders are entrepreneurial and venture- capitalist hyperagents in philanthropy, producers rather than simply sustainers of philanthropic enterprises. Wealth holders not only have the resources for producing charitable outcomes; the social-psychological disposition of hyperagency inclines them to do so. Fundraisers who wish to activate donor hyperagency on behalf of their cause can do so by inviting wealth holders to function as creators or architects of the philanthropic initiatives through which they hope to make a difference.

  • Vector 2: Schools of Identification and Association
  •   Identification is the unity of love of neighbor with love of self, identifying with the fate of others. The question for generating generosity is how to expand those very familiar sentiments of identification to include those who are relationally, spatially, and temporally more distant, that is, to a circle of human beings beyond one's kin, those who live in wider fields of space and time. In other words, to extend the sentiments of family-feeling to the realms of fellow-feeling.

    The school of identification is association, by which we mean the constellation of formal and informal communities of participation in which donors learn about people in need, and come to identify with them as being like themselves. Over the course of our research, it has become increasingly clear that differences in levels of giving of time and money are due to more than differences in income, wealth, religion, gender, and race. When it comes to philanthropy, differences are less a matter of financial capital or even moral capital in the form of some kind of intrinsic faculty of generosity, rather what matters most is one's abundance of associational capital in the form of social networks, invitation, and identification. Many younger donors are actively seeking opportunities for association, such as through giving circles and Social Venture Partners. Through association with other donors they become acquainted with potential beneficiaries, with efficient and effective charitable organizations, and in general, with a wider range of philanthropic possibilities.

  • Vector 3: Discernment and Donor-Centered Fundraising
  •   Too often fundraising efforts tend to bully or cajole donors into making gifts, enlisting as their allies guilt, embarrassment, comparison, shame, and imposed obligation. We refer to this approach as the cajoling or scolding model. The demand-side approach obtains a gift, but it doesn't create a giver. Our research on the motivations for charitable giving suggests that in order to amplify charitable giving fundraisers must deal more directly with the social-psychological vectors that incline donors to expand their philanthropy.

    If major gifts are to be garnered from major donors imbued with hyperagency, it is necessary to treat donors to the same respectful decision-making process we would desire for ourselves. This means helping donors excavate their biographical history, their contemporary prospects and purposes, and their anxieties and aspirations for the future. Far more attention and time need be devoted to interpreting who donors are and who they want to be rather than interjecting who we think they are. The discernment method of fundraising utilizes a process of personal discernment where the donor answers the following questions for himself or herself: 1. "Is there something you want to do with your wealth? 2. That fulfills the needs of others? 3. That you can do more efficiently and more effectively than the government? 4. And that makes you happy by enabling you to express your gratitude, by bringing you satisfaction, and by actualizing your identification with the fate of others?"

    Learn More about How to Work with the Vectors of the New Physics (download "The New Physics of Philanthropy: The Spiritual Side of the Supply Side" pdf)

  • C. MEDIA: More Than Money Journal interviews Paul
    Schervish on the Meaning of a Gospel of Wealth
  •    MoreThanMoney: You have written elsewhere that, "The leading cultural and spiritual question of the current era is how to make wise decisions in an age of affluence." Is that what you're suggesting--that people in our society now have so many choices that wisdom is needed in making them?

    Schervish: Aristotle understood that the goal of life is happiness--you could also say love, unity with the divine presence, or a whole range of things, but let's just say that his term is one working definition of the goal of life. Happiness is achieved if you can close the gap between where you and those with whom you identify and care about are and where you and they would like to be.

    Download Complete Interview: Wealth Transfer in an Age of Affluence (pdf)

     ::  email us
     ::  visit our site

    phone: 617-552-4070