ExCollege course gives students the opportunity to be young philanthropists
$20,000 grant disbursed by student board
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 5, 2012 07:03
Promoting active citizenship is often cited as one of the major assets of a Tufts education. But few courses provide students with the immediate knowledge and the financial resources to be active citizens in the surrounding communities. The Experimental College course "Experimenting with Philanthropy" breaks that mold and gets students involved immediately.
Nancy Lippe, associate director of Boston's Civic Schools initiative, teaches the course, which has attracted about 20 students hoping to take advantage of the unique opportunity to be young philanthropists. Lippe teaches using the Socratic Method, which has students sit in a circle and aims to create a class community.
Each class follows the same general setup. First, the group covers the readings and listens to guest speakers. The second half of the class is for discussion as a "youth board." Composed of the entire group of students, the board is charged with deciding how to divide and donate a $20,000 grant at the end of the semester among various nonprofit organizations. Two local foundations, Highland Street Foundation and the Learning by Giving Foundation, fund the grant.
As part of their preparation for the final decision, the students recently spent two classes creating a mission statement.
"They have to decide as a unit and function as a board," Lippe said. "They also have to design their own group community service project. This will help them see what makes a successful nonprofit. Once they design their own grant criteria, they can evaluate other nonprofits."
Later in the semester, Lippe will divide the class into groups based on the Medford, Somerville and Chinatown areas.
"Each team will focus on an area and become familiar with the community to share with the class," Lippe said. "They must become familiar with what each community needs."
Thus far the group has tried to familiarize themselves with a seemingly overwhelming number of nonprofits. In addition, the students have analyzed the concept of a nonprofit and studied nonprofit management and the impact of philanthropy and trends in the nonprofit sector, among other things, Lippe said.
"Nonprofit organizations are businesses that operate for a social benefit," she said. "They are privately run but publically funded."
According to Lippe, a normal grant is about $1000 to $2000 per nonprofit, but she added that the class could decide to donate up to $10,000 to one nonprofit if they saw fit.
Lippe believes that by the end of the semester, students will have the necessary tools to make this kind of decision.
"The course gives the students the context of being philanthropists," Lippe said. "Part of their job is to figure out who they are as philanthropists. For example, are they catalytic grant makers or strategic grant makers?"
Although all of the students are currently involved in nonprofits to some extent, or at least have been in the past, there are no prerequisites for taking the course.
"Everyone's welcome," Lippe said, "as long as they are interested."
Students in the class have various nonprofit interests, ranging from music education to helping the homeless to doing work internationally.
"I would want to do something that is immediate," junior Arlen Weiner said. "[I'd want to work with] a nonprofit that would directly address the needs of women in the community and break down gender binaries."
In contrast, sophomore Lia Weintraub said she hopes to "start a nonprofit that is kind of a resource for other nonprofits, where people can come and share ideas or create connections."
Although the course has been taught at Tufts for five years, Lippe is a first time teacher at the university and has experience with high school and family philanthropy. She hopes that bonding in the group will facilitate and ease the discussions. To that end, she aims to create an open environment.
"We have a lot of fun," Lippe said.
Weiner said she looks forward to the class every week and would recommend it. Sophomore Eliza Deissler agreed and also expressed her satisfaction with Lippe's teaching style.
"[Lippe] truly gives us the reigns," Deissler said. "It's not exactly a class as much as it's a group of people coming together and working together."
The course is especially helpful to those who want to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector.
"As a Peace and Justice Studies major, I've grown to value social justice and community service," Weiner said. "I figured this class would give me the tools to run an effective nonprofit and also to understand the foundation of it."
Weiner was surprised to learn the complexity of the whole system of philanthropy.
"There are so many foundations and so many different kinds of philanthropies," she said. "Also, there are so many issues, from addressing the immediate needs of people, to teaching people skills to take care of themselves, to empowering people to help others."