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Tune in: Hear an excerpt from the Center for New Performances' Prometheus Bound on "Marketplace"

December 10, 2013

by Noel King

What's wrong with giving money away? Even generosity has critics

The term “philanthropist,” meaning “lover of humanity,” is said to have been coined by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, to refer to Prometheus*, the mythological Titan who gave fire to mankind. The gods, unfortunately, hadn’t approved his gift, so Prometheus was chained to a rock for eternity, eagles nibbling at his liver.

Modern-day philanthropists don’t have to tussle with vengeful gods, but they are not without critics. The bulk of the criticism has to do with where gifts of millions - or even billions - of dollars, are donated.

A simple way to ascertain where large gifts, at least those with the giver's name attached, are going, is to browse the Million Dollar List. For more than a decade, researchers at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy have been compiling a list of every publicly announced donation of one million dollars or more. The list is a fascinating archive of causes that wealthy donors value, and some patterns are instantly evident. Colleges and universities, many of them top-tier, appear on nearly every page of the list.

Read more and listen to the podcast here.

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