The Heart of the Man Who Built the Foundational Philanthropy Reader

By Michael Moody

I grew up all across the country – including a stint in Puerto Rico during kindergarten – but both sides of my family have deep roots in northern Indiana, and that’s where I ended up finishing high school. There were some hard times in my childhood, and we got by at times because of the generosity of others – individuals and institutions, some strangers, some not. Looking back now I can see how this gave me an early appreciation of what I later came to think of, broadly speaking, as philanthropy. I saw how much we all rely on voluntary contributions of support of all kinds, and how our society depends critically on formal and informal giving. Of course, I didn’t have a way of thinking about this systematically at the time.

Desiring to Do Good

I went off to Indiana University with a vague idea that I wanted to “do good.” While there, I got, heavily involved in organizing student volunteers to work in local nonprofits, but it wasn’t until the two years after I graduated that I found a way to make sense of this work and to see how I best fit into it. Or rather, I should say, I was given a way to make sense. Because like other lucky people, my story includes an influential mentor, someone who helps you see the world in new ways while finding your own path in it, and asks in return only that you carry on the legacy they are passing on to you. For me, that mentor was Robert L. Payton, the creative force behind the founding of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana (now the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy).

I went to work for Mr. Payton (as I always called him) as one of the first employees of the new Center. Over those two years, I took a crash course from him in the theory and practice of philanthropy. His way of thinking about philanthropy as moral action through which all cultures across time have defined and pursued a vision of “the public good” clicked with the 21-year-old me – the nebulously altruistic and philosophically minded kid. It gave me a way of understanding those parts of the world that I knew I wanted to be a part of and promote somehow, the parts where people come together voluntarily for good purposes and where they choose to use their valuable resources to enrich others, not themselves.

Mr. Payton’s legacy is to help people, like he helped me, make sense of philanthropy’s essential place in all societies. And that is the legacy I’ve tried to carry on in my career since.

Seeing Philanthropy in Our Lives

I went on to graduate at the University of Chicago and Princeton, earning a PhD in sociology, and have pursued a career of teaching, studying, and writing about philanthropy – including co-authoring a book with my mentor called Understanding Philanthropy, publishing in 2008 a few years before he passed. I’ve always focused this teaching and writing on audiences inside and outside the academy, and this continues significantly in my current work as the nation’s first endowed chair in family philanthropy. As the Frey Foundation Chair, I help people appreciate and navigate the rapidly changing, complex world of giving by shining a light on the connections between philanthropy and their lived experience – whether they are a grad student or a major donor, whether they run a family foundation, or advise people looking to be more effective in their giving. I try to straddle the worlds of scholarship and practice.

The Purpose of The Philanthropy Reader

The Philanthropy Reader brings together in one place nearly 100 excerpts of the most seminal and illuminating writing about philanthropy, from Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates, from Aristotle to the Dalai Lama. My partner in the project – Dr. Beth Breeze from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England – and I had both heard the same question for years, from students as well as from donors and those who advise them. They asked, “What’s the best book for me to start reading about philanthropy?” So we created The Philanthropy Reader to be that book.

But we explicitly designed the Reader to be a resource that had broad appeal to people with different sorts of interests and experiences with philanthropy. The readings cover philanthropy as it has been practiced in different ways across time and across the globe. They cover how different intellectual disciplines – from economics to anthropology – understand and explain philanthropy, as well as how donors and professionals in the field talk about their giving. And the readings cover both sides of many “big debates” raging right now about philanthropy – e.g., debates around new “strategic” methods of philanthropy, about how philanthropy should fit alongside government and business, and about what is the right relationship between “those who give” and “those who get.”

We created The Reader as more than just a textbook. We hope it can be a handy resource that advisors can give to clients to help them – as Mr. Payton helped me – make sense of and find their way in this often confusing world of philanthropy. And we hope it can help giving families find guidance and inspiration – even if that comes in one turn of phrase they find in the book, from John Wesley or Booker T. Washington or an international scholar of philanthropy they’ve never heard of before.

Stewarding My Legacy

Very simply, I want to steward the legacy I inherited from Mr. Payton, the legacy of helping others see the vital role philanthropy plays in all of our lives, and of helping them use this insight to go out and expand and improve the practice of giving in all its diverse expressions. Like all good stewards, I hope to pass on that legacy even better than I received it, and for me this means bringing this powerful way of understanding philanthropy to ever more diverse audiences – whether that means working with new sorts of family donors in the U.S. or emerging philanthropists in other parts of the world. I can only hope The Philanthropy Reader is a tool for this work of which Mr. Payton would be proud.

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Michael Moody Bio Thumbnail 2Michael P. Moody, PhD is the Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can purchase The Philanthropy Reader at