Thursday, June 25, 2009

Philanthropy 101 for College Students

If only these courses had existed while I was still in college:

Colleges and universities in Boston are embarking on a new trend that gives students first-hand experience in philanthropy, the Boston Globe reported today. I'm not just talking about whipping out the checkbook and signing away some money to a charity of choice. I'm talking about understanding the full scope of philanthropy from writing up mission statements to researching and evaluating organizations and then allocating the money in a responsible manner.

The Globe reported that Tufts University, Northeastern University (my Alma mater) and Boston University have all started these philanthropy courses and at least 10 New England colleges will start offering them next school year. As my eyes read over Northeastern, I stopped and thought, "Wait, how come I didn't know about this?" Well, that's because the university only started these classes last fall, after I had graduated. Bummer.

But no worries for me. I'm lucky enough to have a stint as a development assistant where I'm getting some first-hand experience on fundraising and philanthropy, albeit it's in the "real world" as a full-time job instead of in my former college lifestyle.

Regardless, I'm a little jealous. I think this is really a great opportunity because students are dealing with real money. There's no Monopoly paper money in these courses. The money itself is being donated to students in a sense. The Globe notes:
Two national foundations interested in promoting the teaching of philanthropy on college campuses began donating money for the courses across the country in recent years. The Sunshine Lady Foundation, established by Doris Buffett, sister of famed investor Warren Buffett, has given colleges $10,000 a year to disburse since 2003. The foundation’s Learning By Giving program will double next year to include 15 colleges across the country, including Tufts and Holy Cross.
The people behind these large grants are going to expect their money to be used wisely, even if it is a learning experience.

While this can open a whole new experience for students, who may or may not have had an interest in nonprofits to begin with, I think some of the real value is teaching them to be responsible with money. Understanding how an organization works and how donations contribute to helping the organization reach its mission is important. It might not seem so pertinent to students now, given they operate on tighter budget, but this won't always be the case. And as they are able to possibly make philanthropic decisions in the future, they'll have a better understanding of it all. It was also pointed out in the article that this could be a great asset for business students who will need to have knowledge of how to spend money in the most effective manner.

Hopefully, this can also serve as a way to get people interested in philanthropy at a young age, even if they won't be flexing those muscles for years to come. It can at least plant the seed for now.

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