In this film by Kathryn Brown, Maxim Thorne and students discuss their experience in the Philanthropy in Action seminar.

Philanthropy in Action, taught by Maxim Thorne, provides students with the opportunity to authentically engage in philanthropy. Leveraging a gift from the Once Upon a Time Foundation, students give away $100,000 at the end of the semester. The course originated as a Yale College Seminar in Spring 2012. Starting in Fall 2012, the course will also be offered to students at Yale Law Students and Yale School of Management.

Philanthropy in Action explores how philanthropy has operated at the intersection of the United States Constitution and the political process—specifically in selecting and regulating philanthropic leadership and opportunity, amending the constitution and changing laws, and defining the respective functions of the three branches of government, as well as the non-governmental space—and analyzes in these settings how politics inform and constrain philanthropy and related laws in the United States.

We see how individual and mass philanthropy attempt to change some of the fundamental social and political dynamics that shape the day-to-day quality of life of Americans and their long-term trajectories of opportunity.  We explore the interplay of the private, public and philanthropic sectors.  Students look at modern philanthropy stepping onto the larger stage of public policy, civic relationships, and economic systems in order to shatter calcified patterns of injustice.

The Constitution and other works like those of Maimonedes, Aristotle and Aeschylus help frame philanthropic space even as its contours are themselves shaped by the private and political process and current thought leaders. This enduring and always evolving relationship stands at the base of the American philanthropy project—and it is the font from which spring the values and principles that underpin American philanthropy.

This course examines the foundational values and principles of philanthropy in America through the lens of historical and contemporary law and politics.  We discuss great philanthropic moments from the birth of this nation to the present. Topics include the American Revolution, Slavery, Abolitionists’ Trusts, post Civil War philanthropic compromises, Reforms, HBCUs, constitutional transformation, Hooverism, Tax dodges, The New Deal, Federal Bailout and Mortgage Foreclosure, Citizens United, and social change.

Students in Philanthropy in Action award $100,000 at the end of the semester to causes and organizations of their own choosing. They design their own metrics and are solely responsible for deciding who to fund. They address Aristotle’s observation: “To give money is an easy matter in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”