Robert L. Payton


IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy Award (2009)
Honorary Degree (2000)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand
IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy Award (2000)


Robert L. Payton went beyond studying the field of philanthropy to personifying its best qualities. His leadership, determination, and dedication helped spur the development of the study of philanthropy. As founding director of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy at IUPUI, Payton helped the study of philanthropy blossom not only at IU but also at colleges and universities nationwide. He is widely recognized as the father and statesman of philanthropic studies.

"Bob moved philanthropy squarely into the arena of scholarly discourse on the humanities and created a unique national center for thought and study in every aspect of voluntarism and fundraising," says Gerald L. Bepko, IU vice president for long-range planning and IUPUI chancellor.

He served as faculty at the Center on Philanthropy and was its director from 1988 to 1993. In these positions, Payton further influenced his field by creating an interdisciplinary master's degree program that encompasses the history, culture, theory, and values of philanthropy. IU was the first institution in the United States to offer such a degree in the late 1980s, when many thought the study of philanthropy should be examined from a business or law, rather than a liberal arts, viewpoint.

"Many scholars embark on established scholarly pathways, expanding the knowledge base of disciplines that have established methodologies and recognized scholars. Bob chose to be a pioneer, creating paths where none existed before, building programs and a field of study in the academy that naturally is quite skeptical of new initiatives," says Herman J. Saatkamp Jr., dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

A native Hoosier, Payton was born in South Bend on August 23, 1926. He remained in the Midwest throughout his college career, including undergraduate study at the University of Iowa and the University of Illinois. In 1954, he received a Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Chicago. From his first post-graduation job working as editor of the Burlington (Iowa) Herald, Payton went on to hold a number of appointments at Washington University in St. Louis, including director of university relations and vice chancellor of development.

ln 1966, he moved into government work, serving as special assistant to the deputy undersecretary of state for administration and then as U.S. ambassador to the Federal Republic of Cameroon from 1967 to 1969. Following his diplomatic post, Payton served as president of C. W. Post College from 1969 to 1973, and president of Hofstra University from 1973 to 1977. He then worked as president of the Exxon Education Foundation for a decade before moving to IU in 1987.

A vital member of the Indianapolis community, Payton served on the Mayor of Indianapolis Civility Project Committee as well as the mayor's SPIRIT Task Force. He was a member of the Midwestern regional advisory committee for ACCESS, a national nonprofit career service agency, and is a trustee of the Work in America Institute. "Few people in the last half century have made as great a contribution to American and world philanthropy as Bob Payton," says Michael O'Neill, professor at the University of San Francisco. "Through his writings, speeches, teaching, and above all his leadership at the IU Center on Philanthropy, he has enlightened and inspired thousands of people in this field, including leaders, scholars, students and practitioners." Pavton has an extensive list of academic contributions to the field of philanthropy, including countless lectures and nearly 70 publications.

"In his writings and speeches, and personal relationships, he has been one of the leading luminaries in helping to improve appreciation of the importance of the not-for-profit sector in society, not only in the U.S. but around the world," said Harvey P. Dale, director of the National Center on Philanthropy and Law at New York University.

Payton practiced what he preached. He has served on several national advisory boards and boards of directors, including the Robert K. Greenleaf Center, the Mandel Center on Nonprofit Organization at Case Western Reserve University, and the Program on Law and Philanthropy at New York University. Payton's commitment to serving the community won him numerous honors, including the Otis R. Bowen, M.D., Distinguished Leadership Award in 1997 and the Distinguished Service to Education Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 1984. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education again recognized Payton in 1987, when a regional affiliate created the Robert L. Payton Volunteer of the Year Award.

Largely because of Payton's assistance, the IUPUI University Library houses one of the world's finest library and archival collections of material related to philanthropy. With his own funds, Payton provided space for the Joseph and Matthew Payton Philanthropic Studies Library and Archives at IUPUI, named in memory of two of his sons. Since his retirement as director of the Center on Philanthropy, Payton has worked to raise funds to expand the library into its current home in the University Library, and has pledged his personal library of 20,000 volumes to the current collection. He further helped the University Library by raising funds for its expansion and recruited individuals and organizations to contribute to the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives. The stature and character of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy are largely due to the vision and administration of Professor Payton; his work to develop the field of nonprofit and philanthropic studies placed the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy in a leadership role nationally and internationally.