Field Notes: Who’s Teaching Whom Philanthropy

Does a five-figure cash pot make it easier for universities to teach philanthropy as a “practical philosophy?” A novel grant from a Texas hedge fund manager provokes debate.

If you are a nonprofit organization, brace yourself: you have the opportunity to receive up to $50,000 from a student thanks to hedge fund founder Geoffrey P. Raynor. According to this New York Times article, Raynor endows a philanthropy class in Northwestern with an uncommon grant: it requires students to “find and investigate nonprofit organizations” before giving away their money to “fit candidates.” The proposed goal of the grant is to prepare students for work in the nonprofit or philanthropy sectors in the future, but some students have their doubts:

The support of Mr. Raynor, who says he views philanthropy as “practical philosophy,” has provided an additional — and, at times, awkward — education in the modern-day realities of giving. Like many philanthropic gifts, Mr. Raynor’s grants have a number of strings attached, including a request that universities set aside two hours for him to speak with the students. On a visit to Stanford’s course last week, Mr. Raynor said that “there is no moral high ground” in philanthropy and proposed that doing good deeds is a largely selfish act, suggesting even that Mother Teresa acted out of self-interest, according to people who were present. Students pushed back and questioned Mr. Raynor about how he made his money. When one student pressed Mr. Raynor to reveal information about his hedge fund’s investments, he remarked that the student was “trying to find out whether the ends justify the means,” and declined to provide the information. When the student continued to challenge him, insisting that a “moral high ground” does exist, Mr. Raynor became silent for around 10 seconds. “I think he’s used to having classes be really deferential,” said Bruce Sievers, the Stanford lecturer who teaches the course. Mr. Raynor said in an interview that he did not actually believe Mother Teresa acted out of self-interest but was proposing that idea to spur a discussion about altruism. His hedge fund, which shares an office with his foundation, Once Upon a Time, managed roughly $1.75 billion as of last September, of which $727 million came from the firm’s partners, and invests in areas including aircraft leasing, private equity and distressed assets, according to its website.

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