Experimental College course lets Jumbos fund nonprofits through a $10,000 grant
Published: Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 08:04
What could people do if they were given $10,000 to donate to nonprofits of their choice? How would they decide to whom they would give this money? Students in Experimenting with Philanthropy, an Experimental College class currently being offered for the fourth year, are investigating the possible answers to these questions as they learn the ins and outs of the philanthropic field before deciding how to allocate the $10,000 grant and to which organizations.
The class is taught by Louise Sawyer, a visiting lecturer at the ExCollege and a consultant for the Sunshine Lady Foundation's Learning by Giving program. The class is backed by a $10,000 grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation that the students will give away at the end of the semester to charities selected as part of a class assignment.
The Sunshine Lady Foundation was established by Doris Buffet in 1996 with the goal "to continue, develop, and enhance efforts to end domestic violence," according to the organization's Web site.
In the three years since the inception of Experimenting with Philanthropy in 2007, the various classes have in total awarded over $30,000 in funding to 18 local organizations, according to the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
"Each student has been partnered with a nonprofit this semester in the communities of Somerville, Medford and Chinatown, so each student has written a grant proposal on behalf of that organization," Sawyer said. The students are then divided into two groups, with each group evaluating the other's proposal. Finally, the class makes site visits to the various organizations under consideration before making its final decision.
Sawyer said that the choice of where to donate the grant money isn't easy for the Experimenting with Philanthropy students.
"It's an agonizing process — the course is meant to give them a theoretical background for deciding [on the charities] as well as the actual skills and tools," Sawyer said.
The curriculum of the class also focuses on a variety of lessons in the field of philanthropy.
"So far, we've dealt with and discussed a lot of issues within the philanthropy field, including self−assessment, sustainability, new movements in philanthropy — like venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurism — and case studies on specific organizations and people," senior Swapna Maruri, a student in the class, said.
"I think this next section of the class will be the hardest of all," Maruri said, "because we have to turn away a lot of deserving organizations because our funds, much like [in] real life, are very limited. In tandem, it will also probably be the most rewarding part of the class because we will be making a direct impact on the organizations of our choice in funding their programming."
Unlike most courses focusing on philanthropy, Experimenting with Philanthropy is aimed at the undergraduate level and is open to students of all majors and years, from International Relations majors to engineers.
Freshman David Meyers, the vice president of the Tufts chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), enrolled in the class as a way to gain hands−on experience working with nonprofits.
"In EWB, we spend a lot of time writing grants and working with other non−profits in order to fund our projects in different countries," Meyers said. "When I saw the course, I thought it would be a perfect experience to have that would help me out with EWB."
"I decided to take the class in part because I had learned a lot about social problems in all of my social science classes, and as a senior, I wanted to take a course that focused on solving those problems," Maruri said. "Also, the hands−on aspect of the class was particularly appealing because it allowed me to tackle interesting issues through a real experience of what being a grant writer and grant maker is like. I got a real impression of the constraints that nonprofits face.
"The experience has been really rewarding and multi−faceted," she added. "Not only have we been able to meet with leaders in the philanthropy field through guest lectures, but we've also really gotten involved in the work ourselves."
"[The class] has given me the tools I need to be an effective philanthropist in the future," senior Annie Jacob, who is interested in working in the nonprofit sector, said. "I've gained invaluable experience writing grants, and I've been able to use the grant I wrote for the [Boys & Girls Club of Middlesex County] as a writing sample for jobs that I've applied to."
According to Sawyer, Tufts is one of 16 schools nationwide that have partnered with the Sunshine Lady Foundation. Others include the University of California at Berkley, Davidson College in North Carolina, New York University, SUNY Binghamton and the College of the Holy Cross.
"We have a great group of colleges which Tufts students can be involved along with. Teaching philanthropy at an undergraduate level is on the rise, and it helps to get students involved in becoming problem solvers in their communities, so I think it's only going to grow," Sawyer said.
Meyers seconded Sawyer's belief that philanthropy classes will become a more common phenomenon. "It is such a major field that impacts so many people in so many ways. It is a great education for people to have to understand a major sector of our society," he said.
"Philanthropy is more than writing a check," Sawyer said. "It involves critical thinking about the non−profits that people are deciding to give to and giving wisely to the organizations that are going to have an impact on the community. The course is about the fact that philanthropists don't have to be Bill Gates. Small amounts can make a difference, and we can make people aware of the problems in our community. Philanthropy is one way of being a leader."