William Schambra Reviews The Philanthropist

As most of you know, on Tuesday I’ll be at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC debating the relevancy of the new NBC show The Philanthropist. Seats are running out to attend the debate, but you can still register here.

You’ve probably read my review. You can read panelist Steve Gunderson’s, the CEO of Council on Foundation, statement regarding the show here. The show’s creator Tom Fontana (who produced/wrote St. Elsewhere, Oz, Homicide: Life on the Streets and other hit shows) will be there too. Now host and moderator William Schambra has released his own op-ed regarding the show in the current issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Writes Schambra:

The Philanthropist is the "television program philanthropy loves to hate," notes Sean Stannard-Stockton, a blogger and Chronicle of Philanthropy columnist, succinctly capturing the foundation world’s reaction to NBC’s eight-part summer series.

Why? Because the program challenges the central premise of American philanthropy: that it is — and should be — turning into a profession…

Mr. Rist realizes that, however knowledgeable [his corporate foundation director] may be, she does not feel the same sense of urgency that possesses him. He concludes that he must tackle the philanthropic deed himself…

This flies right in the face of everything philanthropy wants us to understand about its growing professionalization. Mr. Rist’s mission instead foolishly encourages everyday citizens to believe that they can themselves, directly and immediately and without professional direction, undertake charitable acts to improve the world.

Instead of scoffing at The Philanthropist, establishment philanthropy might pay attention to its underlying message. For all our insistence that giving has become ever more complex, demanding, sophisticated, and professionalized, simply hiring experts to do it for us may not be enough to satisfy the human charitable impulse…

Perhaps charity in general must always arise from and ultimately return to this sort of direct, face-to-face encounter with human brokenness and need, and the connection it builds across the most impenetrable of barriers.

Perhaps the elaborate institutional edifice of modern philanthropy ultimately rests upon this most personal and intimate of human bonds.

American philanthropy can heap contempt upon The Philanthropist’s short-sighted, sentimentalized, amateurish understanding of charity. Or philanthropy can pause long enough to consider that, in its determined and single-minded drive toward professionalization, it may in fact be systematically cutting itself off from its own deepest wellsprings.

You can read the full column here.

If you are in the DC area, I hope to see you at the debate (come up and say hi!). If not, I understand the event is being recorded and I’ll share the video when it is ready.

One Comment

  1. Schambra’s article gives me hope. Thank you, Sean, for bringing attention to it.