Four Traditions of Philanthropy


Elizabeth Lynn, Susan Wisely






One timely contribution foundations as well as individual donors can make... is to promote civic engagement and encourage public moral discourse, by cultivating hospitable spaces for reflection and by bringing diverse people and perspectives into conversation. Rather than trying to force a specific vision of the future (which could turn out to be an unexamined extension of the past), we can create the conditions for conversation, in the hope that new vision and fresh action will eventually emerge.


--Elizabeth Lynn and Susan Wisely, "Four Traditions of Philanthropy"


Civic Engagement


​Elizabeth M. Lynn, founder and former director of the Center for Civic Reflection, and D. Susan Wisely, former Director of Evaluation for Lilly Endowment, examine "three distinctive philanthropic traditions" in the United States: philanthropy as relief, as improvement, and as social reform. They then propose a fourth philanthropic tradition, that of "civic engagement," which aims to build up connections among ordinary citizens and promote discovery of new ways of understanding common concerns. This essay offers readers the opportunity to think about their own activities of giving and serving in the larger landscape of American philanthropy.  See the Giving Autobiography for a sample discussion plan using this essay.