Junior Scholars Forum

2017 Junior Scholars Forum Recap

Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society convened a stellar cohort of emerging scholars for the fourth annual Junior Scholars Forum on Stanford University campus from June 8 – 10, 2017. The forum hosted 11 young scholars who study political science, philosophy, sociology, history, ethics and psychology. The scholars represented diverse academic institutions, including: Columbia University, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Indiana University, Princeton University, the University of British Columbia, University of California Santa Barbara, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Toronto.

This year, the forum included 22 discussants, two for each paper.

Stanford PACS’s mission is to develop and disseminate knowledge. We do this partly by creating an interdisciplinary environment for scholars.  The Junior Scholars Forum fosters discussion on philanthropy and civil society, and this year the scholars explored topics ranging from effective altruism, philanthropy’s role in environmental policies, the role of foundation money in politics, philanthropy and inequality, and donor motivations. The scholars at this year’s forum paid special attention to the relationship between diversity and performance in the nonprofit sector, government funding to nonprofits, and specialist NGOs that tend to be smaller in nature.

We began with an impressive history of the creation of the Smithsonian Institution.  “Making the public trust: congress and the bequest that created the Smithsonian Institution” by Elizabeth Harmon, a recent PhD in American Culture at the University of Michigan, examined the peculiar bequest in the 1840s by James Smithson to the United States, a Scottish nobleman who had never set foot in the U.S.,  The bequest set in motion a discussion among “federal officials and philanthropists  who negotiated whether national benevolent institutions would be government agencies, quasi-governmental institutions or private corporations.”

Harmon was followed by Brad Fulton, an Assistant Professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, who presented, “Bridging and bonding: disentangling two mechanisms underlying the diversity-performance relationship,” which analyzed the inner workings of community-based organizations addressing social needs.

The morning session for the first day came to a close with Amy Schiller, a doctoral student in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY,. Her paper contrasted two different orientations to philanthropy, a technocratic or engineering model and a collaborative effort rooted in civic solidarity. “Sharing versus caring: philanthropy’s loss and recovery of the public world” provided an alternative theory to philanthropy’s contemporary image.

Maoz Brown, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Chicago, started off our afternoon sessions with his paper, “Cooperation, coordination and control: the emergence and decline of centralized finance in American charity.” Brown used archival documents on the Community Chest dating back to the 1940s to examine the effect of centralized funding on the autonomy of nonprofits.

Brown was followed by Takumi Shibaike, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Toronto. He presented on the question of whether small and specialized NGOs might outperform large and broad-mission NGOs. Focusing on animal preservation efforts by large NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund and single animal NGOs, the title of his paper reflected his conclusion:, “Small NGOs matter: the public salience of moral issues in the global north.”

Leah Reisman, a doctoral student  in sociology at Princeton focused on the inequalities that are byproducts of funder groups in the arts funding ecosystem. Her paper, “Arts funding ecologies and organizational survival: the case of Philadelphia” highlighted the consequences of unequal funding patterns for arts organizations.

The first day of the forum concluded with lively conversation around Ashley Whillans’ paper, “How wealth shapes responses to charitable appeals in the field”. Whillans, an incoming assistant professor at Harvard Business School, presented her research from the “Happy Lab” at the University of British Columbia. She discussed findings from a large field experiment of alumni of a prominent School of Business that varied a donor pitch. Her research suggests that wealthy individuals tended to give larger donations when the fundraising appeal was focused on “agency” and the “pursuit of personal goals” rather than pitches that emphasize the importance of community and doing things together.

The second day of the forum began with Brian Berkey, a moral philosopher who has just joined the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Berkey’s paper offered a powerful articulation of the core elements of effective altruism and a strong defense against a range of criticisms that allege EA neglects institutional or political change.

Berkey was followed by Leah Stokes, an Assistant Professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, discussing her paper, “How foundations can change policy: The Energy Foundation’s role in enacting Texas’ environment policies.” Stokes’ paper illustrated the successful involvement of a foundation, at shockingly low cost, to enact environmental and renewable energy policies in Texas in 1999.

The second day morning sessions concluded with Amanda Maher’s discussion of her paper, “Inequality, dependence, and the corruption of civic vigilance.” Maher, a PhD candidate in political theory at the University of Chicago, connected Machiavelli’s critique of the Medici’s patronage and control over Renaissance Florence, and how civic vigilance is diminished by “the private distribution and administration of social and political goods by the few.” She used this historical work to identify the need for civic vigilance in contemporary times where inequality continues to grow unabted.

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an Assistant Professor in international and public affairs at Columbia University closed out the two-day conference with a timely exploration of wealthy people contributing to political causes not as individuals but as influential groups. His paper, “When wealthy political contributors join forces: US donor consortia on the left and right” used Democracy Alliance and the Koch Seminars as case studies of how this has been playing out for the last decade or so. Rather than focus on wealthy individuals, he asks us to consider how donor consortia might change, and possibly threaten, American democracy.

The Junior Scholars Forum will distribute a call for applications in December 2017, with a submission deadline of February 2018. We hope the summary of this year’s forum will motivate a new cohort of junior scholars to join us in June 2018!