Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Elite Philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom in the New Age of Inequalities

Maclean, Mairi; Harvey, Charles; Yang, Ruomei; Mueller, Frank

Elite Philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom in the New Age of Inequalities Thumbnail


Mairi Maclean

Charles Harvey

Ruomei Yang


Elite philanthropy—voluntary giving at scale by wealthy individuals, couples and families—is intimately bound up with the exercise of power by elites. This theoretically oriented review examines how big philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom serves to extend elite control from the domain of the economic to the domains of the social and political, and with what results. Elite philanthropy, we argue, is not simply a benign force for good, born of altruism, but is heavily implicated in what we call the new age of inequalities, certainly as consequence and potentially as cause. Philanthropy at scale pays dividends to donors as much as it brings sustenance to beneficiaries. The research contribution we make is fourfold. First, we demonstrate that the true nature and effects of elite philanthropy can only be understood in the context of what Bourdieu calls the field of power, which maintains the economic, social and political hegemony of the super-rich, nationally and globally. Second, we demonstrate how elite philanthropy systemically concentrates power in the hands of mega foundations and the most prestigious endowed charitable organizations. Third, we explicate the similarities and differences between the four main types of elite philanthropy—institutionally supportive, market-oriented, developmental and transformational—revealing how and why different sections within the elite express themselves through philanthropy. Fourth, we show how elite philanthropy functions to lock in and perpetuate inequalities rather than remedying them. We conclude by outlining proposals for future research, recognizing that under-specification of constructs has hitherto limited the integration of philanthropy within the mainstream of management and organizational research.


Maclean, M., Harvey, C., Yang, R., & Mueller, F. (2021). Elite Philanthropy in the United States and United Kingdom in the New Age of Inequalities. International Journal of Management Reviews, 23(3), 330-352.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 9, 2020
Online Publication Date Feb 21, 2021
Publication Date Jul 5, 2021
Deposit Date Dec 16, 2020
Publicly Available Date Oct 6, 2021
Journal International Journal of Management Reviews
Print ISSN 1460-8545
Electronic ISSN 1468-2370
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 3
Pages 330-352
Public URL


Published Journal Article (630 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
© 2021 The Authors. International Journal of Management Reviews published by British Academy of Management and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations