With federal and state funding becoming tighter and society’s needs growing and diverse, philanthropy is sure to be even more critical in the coming decades. This raises a legitimate question: Will up-and-coming generations demonstrate as much charity, thought and good will to causes big and small as Americans have for more than a century? Baylor University’s inaugural course, “Philanthropy and the Public Good,” paves the way for such acts. Over the past semester, 30 students learned not only how to scrutinize local nonprofits for possible attention but, once they settled on deserving organizations, how to help them write grant applications. (It’s an art all its own.) And this month students marked course’s end by awarding actual grants totaling $100,000 to eight nonprofits, including Family Health Center, Waco Habitat for Humanity, Shepherd’s Heart and the Talitha Koum Institute. Some might think it a sad state of affairs that the concept of giving must be taught in college. We don’t. From our conversations with some of the students in this class, we’re convinced they never would have signed up for the course if they weren’t already passionately interested in the topic. But the real payoff is teaching the next generation to be smarter and more prudent with the dollars they give to charities and nonprofits, whether it involves $5 or $5 million. More of us could benefit from such a class.
Once upon a time
Overseen by Dr. Andy Hogue, director of Baylor’s Civic Education and Community Service Program (and an occasional columnist for this paper), this unique course owes its inspiration and funding to the Fort Worth-based Once Upon a Time Foundation. Since 2011 it has set up “philanthropy labs” at campuses all over the United States, including Harvard, Yale and the University of Texas. It seeks to engage students in the “tangible responsibility of directing real money to a nonprofit organization.” During the Baylor course, students studied nearly 70 nonprofits willing to be scrutinized (and, to our thinking, one should never give to a nonprofit unwilling to be scrutinized). As 20-year-old Baylor student Taylor Adams told a Trib editorial board member, “The first thing we wanted to see is the leadership — how the board operates, how they carry out the nonprofit’s mission. We wanted to see where they would take Waco in the future.” Students sized up each nonprofit’s overhead, organization and how new goals fit the nonprofit’s broader mission. They visited sites. They interviewed executive directors. They studied newspaper accounts. Then they determined how best to distribute the real money they’d been given, focusing on eight nonprofits. Carrie Kuehl, executive director of Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic and a particularly savvy fundraiser, told us that she was more than impressed: “They ask better questions than most of our donors.”
The word “philanthropy” is often attached to wealthy business leaders seeking to return to their communities some of the good fortune they accrued over the years. Yet you don’t have to have a huge bankroll to engage in such acts of charity. “The majority of donations to groups do not come from the most wealthy,” Adams said. “These nonprofits actually need and rely upon people who sometimes make minimum wage but still manage to give 1 percent of their income.” During check presentations, Baylor students beamed with pride in the noble missions of the nonprofits to win grants, including the Animal Birth Control Clinic, Communities in Schools for the Heart of Texas, Compassion Ministries and Act Locally Waco, the latter a newsletter of community events, jobs and opinion assembled by Ashley Thornton. But the real test comes after these students graduate, make their way in the world, begin making money and are faced with putting the insights and skills they learned here into daily practice.
December 18, 2014
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