For the fourth year, students in SESP’s Learning Philanthropy course worked together to donate funds to nonprofit organizations that benefit children and adults. After studying the history and practice of philanthropic giving and researching local charities, the class made donations totaling $100,000.

Student task forces investigated six key areas of philanthropy: arts and culture, child/youth development, education, environment and sustainability, community and neighborhood development and mental health. During their decision making process, students confronted many of the policies, politics and practices that influence giving decisions.

As a culminating experience at a June 7 reception with representatives from the selected nonprofits, the six student groups announced the following recipients:

  • Arts and Culture: SkyArt, $16,754
  • Child and Youth Development: Chicago Youth Centers, $18,848
  • Community and Neighborhood Development, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, $15,707
  • Education: Project Syncere, $19,895
  • Environment and Sustainability: Environmental Law and Policy Center, $15,707
  • Mental Health: NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Chicago, $13,089

The groups started with proposals for 61 organizations, made site visits to 23 organizations and finally selected six for donations of varying amounts. Their decisions were based on analysis of the nonprofits through goals and criteria that each group established.

Learning Philanthropy: Engaging in the Study and Practice of Giving was taught spring quarter by Penelope Peterson, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy, and Lauren Young, director emerita of the Spencer Foundation. Students in the class learned about the role of philanthropy in the United States, including its history, social and cultural meanings, motivations and effects. They also explored their own concepts and values about philanthropic purposes and outcomes.

Peterson started the Learning Philanthropy course at the School of Education and Social Policy, opening the class to students across Northwestern. The Once Upon a Time Foundation entrusted the class with $100,000 for donations to enhance students’ understanding of and commitment to philanthropy. The course helps young people to understand the importance and process of charitable giving, as well as the challenges of making choices among worthwhile organizations.

Each group described how the chosen organization fulfilled their goals. The Arts and Culture group found that SkyArt fostered safe spaces for children of all ages to produce art. The Child and Youth Development group felt that Chicago Youth Centers empowers children to Experience their promise and helps to break the cycle of poverty and violence. The Community and Neighborhood Development group found that the Inner-City Muslim Action Network fosters health and wellness for asset-based improvement in neighborhoods. The Education group said that Project Syncere improved the educational experience of underserved children, and the Environment and Sustainability group said the Environmental Law and Policy Center succeeded in advocacy for clean air. The Mental Health group found that NAMI Chicago reduced the stigma of mental illness by raising awareness and expanded access to mental health support.

“Across different interest groups, we arrived at six amazing organizations,” noted Young, who commented that the class promoted “learning how to give and give well.” Peterson thanked the organizations, who “provided an authentic experience for our students.”



June 6, 2016

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