Exercising Presidential Power
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.6 Describe how the civil society sector is often the origin of new ideas, projects and innovation and social renewal.

The president of the United States is often considered to be the most powerful person in the world. Students will analyze how significant presidential power is and investigate ways that it creates tension between the executive and legislative branches of the government. 

Focus Question: How does the president influence the participation of individuals in civic action?

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • describe the concepts of "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" and give examples of each.
  • analyze how the president can use the resources of the office to carry out the agenda.
  • analyze causes of tension between the branches of government.
  • define philanthropy and give examples of philanthropy in modern culture.
  • describe how voluntarism creates innovation and social renewal.
  • The Constitution of the United States (optional)
  • National Council for the Humanities. The White House Conference on Philanthropy: Gifts to the Future. South Carolina ETV, 14 minutes, 1999. Videocassette. Available through Michigan Middle School and High School Media Centers and Public Libraries or by contacting Learning to Give at (231) 767-8600.
  • White House Conference on Philanthropy Worksheet (handout)
  • Follow Up and Results of the White House Conference on Philanthropy: Gifts to the Future (handout)
  • Quiz on Philanthropy (handout)
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Give students the fictional example that the President of the United States has announced a future visit to your city. Ask them to describe the kinds of preparations that will be made to prepare for the Presidential visit.

  2. After the class has done a thorough job of describing possible preparations, ask them why all this effort would be made because one person was coming to visit the city.

    (They should indicate that the President is the symbol of the nation and, as such, deserves special treatment. They may also indicate that the President is considered by many to be the most powerful person in the world. An opportunity to influence the President's thinking is an important occasion.) Have students brainstorm a list of powers the President has. If necessary, refer to Article II of the Constitution.

  3. Discuss the idea of "separation of powers." Each branch of the government has its own work to do (i.e., the legislature makes the laws, the executive enforces the laws, and the judiciary interprets the law). This is offset by "checks and balances;" each branch has the ability to limit the powers of another branch. Solicit examples of "checks and balances" from each branch and place them in the following table. (An example for each branch is provided.)

    Checks and Balances

    Executive -  Veto bills  Appoint judges

    Legislature - Impeach the President   Impeach judges

    Judiciary - Declare actions of the President unconstitutional     Declare laws unconstitutional 

  4. Distribute White House Conference on Philanthropy Worksheet. Explain to the class that many years ago, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, made a presentation exercising presidential power, "White House Conference on Philanthropy: Gifts to the Future."

    Define "philanthropy" as giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good.

    Go over the questions on the chart with the class so that they will be focused when reviewing the presentation. Show the video. Note: The video is not readily available but the report and transcripts are linked below.

  5. Discuss the worksheet and pay particular attention to the changing examples of philanthropy in today's culture. Explain that large or small foundations set up by many philanthropists are considered part of the independent sector, that is, they are not part of the government, nor are they profit-making. They are often the source of new ideas, ways of doing things and social renewal.

    Ask students to come up with ideas of nonprofit, non-governmental organizations in the community that help improve life in some way.

  6. Day Two:

    Review the idea of presidential power. Explain to the learners that, after the White House Conference, President Clinton, using his presidential power, made a number of commitments. Discuss these presidential changes with the learners by referring to Follow Up and Results of the White House Conference on Philanthropy: Gifts to the Future (handout) for details.

  7. It is important to note that several of the commitments came about as a result of the president's position as head of the executive branch of government. He has many departments, agencies and committees under his authority which help him carry out his responsibility as Leader of the Nation.

    Go over the list of commitments again and list on the board those agencies or other organizations that are directly responsible to the president. (Internal Revenue Service, Council of Economic Advisers, Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps, and the Department of the Treasury)

    Considering that the president has power over dozens of these organizations, what does this say about the ability of the president to direct others to carry out his will?

  8. Because of checks and balances, President Clinton could not describe the follow-up results (shown in handout) as achievements of his administration. That is because many of them depend on cooperation by the Congress to get passed. Go over the list and decide which of the items listed need Congressional approval. What would the president need to do to get his recommendations approved by Congress? (work with the Congress in a spirit of cooperation) Ask students to consider why a Congress might not want to support the president's ideas.

  9. In Philanthropy in the American Economy, A Report by the Council of Economic Advisers (which was ordered by the president as a result of the conference), the report stated that "Americans respond to financial incentives to give." In one example, our tax code encourages Americans to bequest money to charitable organizations upon death. This is because bequests to charities are deducted from the value of the estate before calculating how much estate tax is owed. Therefore, if the estate tax is reduced or eliminated altogether, charitable bequests would be expected to fall substantially. Rather than allow this to happen, President Clinton vetoed the bill that would eliminate the estate (death) tax. Have students analyze what such an action by the president would do to executive-legislative harmony. What would be the probability of Congressional approval of President Clinton's budget proposals after a veto?


Ask students to write an imaginary letter to the President giving their opinion of whether or not the president's use of the resources at his command were used effectively to carry out his purpose. They should complete the letter by describing how voluntarism can create innovation and social renewal.