Noah D. Drezner, Associate Professor of Higher Education

For some in higher education, philanthropy is a form of revenue or a means to close a budget gap. However, for me, I see philanthropy going beyond the functional argument. I am driven by the traditional definition of philanthropy as voluntary action, or giving, for the public good. I argue philanthropy has a means of empowerment, access, and the ability to help reclaim higher education as a public good. In other words, for some, by making voluntary contributions to higher education donors are saying—beyond the government’s reallocation of tax dollars—that other’s education and the production of knowledge benefits more than the individual. By exploring how individual philanthropic giving towards higher education I engage in the larger tension of higher education as a public good or a private good.

In order to explore this tension, my research mostly focuses on how identity impacts philanthropic giving. In the past few years I have explored identity-based philanthropy through a number of different projects. Here I highlight two:  

The National LGBT Alumni Study (co-PI with Jason C. Garvey, my former Ph.D. student and assistant professor, University of Vermont) is a mix-method study that examines how sexual orientation and gender identities affect a person’s philanthropic behavior. Prior to this study, there was no exploration of how one’s sexuality effected their philanthropic giving—let alone within the context of higher education. Previous studies outside of higher education focused on giving to LGBT-related causes.  This work not only advanced our understanding of how sexuality, as a social identity, effects motivations to give, but places that giving outside of the context of giving to support a causes related to that identity.

As I continued to explore different social identities in my work, I began to formulate questions that went beyond general motivations to give.  I became interested in how identity might actually effect giving when presented with a specific solicitation request.  Therefore, building off of my identity-based philanthropy work, I developed a philanthropic mirroring framework. This framework proposes that as social distance is reduced through mirroring a prospective donor’s social identities with those of a student profiled, the prospective donor will act in an identity-congruent fashion. This will result in both attaching greater importance to these solicitations and give at a higher level, than when the social distance is larger.

The resulting project was my National Alumni Giving Experiment (NAGE), one of the first studies in the field of higher education to bring experimental design methodology as a form of research. NAGE is a general population experiment that evaluated college graduates’ willingness to donate to their alma mater through different solicitation vignettes. Through NAGE, I was able to complicate our understanding of how social identity impacts philanthropic giving. I found that social identity impacts those with marginalized identities differently than those holding privileged identities.

Overall, my research looks to explore not only the motivations of individuals who give and impact of their philanthropy, but how we can better do this research as a field. Recently, my work has gradually begun to move away from focusing solely on the United States context. I have projects in Azerbaijan, China, and Israel. For more information about my research please visit my website or my Tzedakah Lab website.


Back to skip to quick links