The Philanthropic Enterprise is a privately funded institute for research and education that seeks to put philanthropy to work to strengthen the ideas, institutions, and social practices that sustain a free and flourishing society.
As a nation, Americans have arguably been among the most generous people in history. This generosity is correlated not only with the fact of our economic prosperity but also with something cultural about Americans. But to avoid crushing the essence of our liberality, we need deeper clarity about the distinctive cultural and economic features of American society that produce prosperity and generosity. There is pressing need to better understand the origin and evolution of our social institutions.
What ideas will guide those who influence donor intent and philanthropic giving in the future? Will nonprofit entities further become handmaidens of the state, or can philanthropy help them become more independent components of civil society, the indispensable little schools in which we learn the meaning of both freedom and humanity?
Without clearer understanding of what philanthropy is for (a normative question) and what philanthropy does (an analytical question), policymakers and philanthropic trendsetters will be likely to continue to pursue ends and use means that undermine limited government and free enterprise and, worse, that perpetuate bureaucratic programs that trap people in dependency rather then help them escape it.
Moreover, as people of other nations look to American philanthropy and civil society as models for their own institutional development, we can help them understand why American economic and philanthropic institutions have been so robust and successful only if we understand them better ourselves.
Our vision is straightforward: philanthropy should be used to advance human well being, primarily by helping equip people to live rich, responsible, and rewarding lives and by identifying and protecting the core principles and institutions that sustain our liberty, our prosperity, and our liberality.
The Philanthropic Enterprise thus supports scholarly inquiry and intellectual discussion on the relationships between our beneficent institutions and our market economy and constitutional order. Through conferences, research fellowships, and publications we continue the “great conversation” about what it means to be human and promote understanding of the social arrangements that best enable people to live well together.