Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Robert Donmoyer, Ph.D., Robert Donmoyer, Ph.D., Zachary G. Green, Ph.D.


adult development, charitable giving, nonprofit leadership, nonprofit management, philanthropy


What influences the thinking and decision processes of donors when they engage in philanthropy? This study employed developmental psychology to explore this question. Developmental theorists agree that an adult develops in sequential stages over the course of a lifetime, gradually adopting an increasingly complex mental map. An individual’s developmental stage at any point in time, theorists argue, is made manifest as a type of “action logic” through which the individual interprets his/her external world and internal experience. One’s action logic is subtle and, for most of one’s life, operates outside of conscious awareness. It becomes evident, however, through attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. In recent years, some theorists have developed techniques to measure an individual’s developmental level.

Stage theories of development have been used successfully for a variety of purposes in a number of fields. To date, however, neither the theory nor the associated measurement techniques have been employed to study philanthropic giving.

This study, which represents the first step in a long-term research agenda, explored how the action logics of a sample of donors affect philanthropic giving. The purpose was to (1) identify donors’ action logics, (2) explore what types of influences a donor’s action logic may have on a donor’s philanthropic decisions; and (3) determine how, if at all, a donor seeks feedback from others or engages in self-reflection regarding his/her philanthropic agenda.

The study, which included 11 participants, employed a four-phase mixed-methods design. First, qualitative interviews were conducted and data generated were developed into cases studies using a process characterized as narrative analysis. Second, developmental theory was used to code the data and hypothesize about each participant’s developmental level(s). Third, three formal tests of trustworthiness were implemented to test the qualitative analysis: member checking of the narrative analysis, triangulation with the results of the Global Leadership Profile instrument, and a formal research audit of three cases. Finally, a cross-case analysis highlighted key themes from the qualitative data.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies