After 45 Years, Center For Philanthropy And Wealth Closes

Founded in 1970, Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy will close this year. The 45-year-old center examined patterns of charitable giving by the rich, examining why and how they give.

The center conducts research on the personal meaning of wealth and the transfer of wealth between generations, as well as financial planning and security. It studies the fields of wealth and philanthropy in terms of their spiritual and religious meaning, specifically in an age of affluence, according to the center’s website.

“The center has made a national impact on the highlighting how much wealth existed in the nation,” said Paul Schervish, the center’s director.

Schervish and the center’s associate director John Havens have been working together for the past 30 years. Schervish, a sociology professor at BC, has a background in theology, philanthropy, and sociology. Havens has a background in mathematics, economics, and physics, and has conducted research in economic, public policy, and philanthropic analysis through the center.

“Paul Schervish and John Havens earned well-deserved reputations as two of the nation’s leading experts on the study of wealth, wealth transfer and philanthropy, as well as the moral, spiritual and ethical considerations that drive charitable giving in general,” said University spokesman Jack Dunn in an email. “Boston College is grateful for their service and for the unique and wide-ranging contributions they made to this academic area.”

The directors decided to close the center because they were unable to find a group of faculty members who could continue to pursue its agenda with the same combination of skills, Schervish said. They anticipate that the center will close at the end of August, once they finish their current research.

Schervish started working at the center in 1979, focusing his research on poverty and welfare. Research at the center soon shifted to studying wealth and philanthropy after BC alumnus Thomas Murphy came to the center in 1984. Murphy raised the question of whether wealthy and financially secure individuals, who are not looking to raise their standards of living, become more charitably inclined. The center’s answer was yes.

The center has since received funding from the T. B. Murphy Foundation Charitable Trust, the John Templeton Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, Inc., and the Boston Foundation.

Schervish, who became the director of the center in 1984, credits Murphy with establishing the financial and intellectual cores of the center. Schervish and Havens began researching together a year later, in 1985.

“The most basic people all the way through this was the two of us working together as a team, complementing each other’s strengths and our writing abilities,” Schervish said.

The first study that was funded was conducted by Schervish and titled “Empowerment and Beneficence: The Strategies of Living and Giving by the Wealthy.”

During this study, Schervish discovered the motivations and the meanings of philanthropy, as well as how wealth led to interest and participation in philanthropy.

In 1989, Schervish and Havens embarked on a study of statistical patterns of wealth and giving. Almost a decade later, they published the final product on their study, titled “Millionaires and the Millennium: Prospects for a Golden Age of Philanthropy.” This study became one of the most widely cited studies in all of philanthropic research in the U.S., according to Schervish.

“We also studied interviews that enabled us to learn the personal or moral path by which people who had a lot of wealth become engaged at higher and higher levels of philanthropy,” Schervish said. “We were able to identify the motivations, the engagements, the personal attitudes, the experiences of very wealthy people, and how much they were giving.”

The center also examines the Ignatian model of discernment, which can help the rich decide what they should do with their wealth in terms of charitable giving.

“The Ignatian model of discernment is the process of coming to understand in the light of your relationship to God, or, for non-religious people, their deepest meanings—what inspires you to not only have a disposition to contribute for the benefit of others, but to act on it,” Schervish said. “Discernment is a mobilizing process by which people learn what is to be done by tapping into their deepest inspirations.”