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Can You Teach College Students To Be Charitable?

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Students at George Washington University are being schooled in the art of charity.
Nic McPhee: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicmcphee/455279239/
Students at George Washington University are being schooled in the art of charity.

Washington, D.C., has the highest concentration of nonprofit organizations in the country — over 12,000 of them. Many of these nonprofits compete with each other for a limited amount of funding from foundations of all shapes and sizes.

Students at the George Washington University Human Services Program are experiencing nonprofit philanthropy in a different way. In a class taught by Dr. Peter Konwerski, students learn about the grant giving process, and local nonprofits reap the benefits.

The Human Services Program at GWU is an interdisciplinary major. "The goal of it is to produce future citizen leaders. This class is [the students’] senior capstone”. Konwerski says.

Ultimately, Konwerski says, the class ran a grant competition which ran about six weeks and collected 25 grants — the board group manages the selection of the grantees and also the allocation of the funding.

Through funding from the Learning by Giving Foundation, students allocated $10,000 in grant funding to local nonprofit organizations. The students set up their own foundation, sent out a request for proposals, created evaluation criteria and invited back eight of 25 applicants back for a final presentation to the class “board”.

On a Wednesday night at the University, representatives from all eight nonprofits invited back waited in the hallway to give an eight minute presentation to the class board.

Elizabeth Doherty from Keen DC, which provides recreational opportunities to people with developmental and physical disabilities, was the first presenter. She told the class about what makes KEEN, “different and unique” from other nonprofits.

Later on, Dan Hoagland from The Washington Area Bicyclist Association tried a different strategy — asking questions of the class.

“How many of you guys know how to ride a bicycle?," Hoagland asked, at which point all the students raised their hand. "How many of you were taught by that person how to ride on city streets?” This time only three students raised their hands. “Nobody in this country is taught how to ride a bike on city streets as a child," Hoagland said.

The Washington Area Bicycle Association wants to teach low-income, urban kids how to safely ride a bicycle in an urban environment.

Andrea Stark from Playworks asked the students to get up and play a game, called Roshambo Rockstar. It is basically a tournament of Rock Paper Scissors. The class board played the game for two minutes and afterward appeared re-energized and excited.

“Kids need that kind of break in their day too”, Stark said. That’s why she is working to bring more games to D.C. schools at recess.

After the presentations, the class board discussed the pros and cons of each organization. The class agreed to give funding to four of the eight finalists: Keen DC, Playworks, Common Good City Farm and Brainy Camps.

From this experience, college students gained nonprofit foundation experience, while the local organizations gained funding. For Konwerski this was exactly the goal.

“I think the nonprofits are taken a little aback when they actually see the professionalism of the students.” Konwerski said. “At the end of the day they’re running the most professional process possible to support nonprofits in the Washington area."

The organizations which applied for the funding supported the teaching initiative as well. Elizabeth Doherty from Keen DC, said “I love that [teaching philanthropy] is becoming more prominent on college campuses and that more people are thinking about it and realizing: yes, they can be philanthropists but they also can have careers in the nonprofit sector.”

George Washington University and its neighbor Georgetown are among three dozen colleges and universities across the country offering these sorts of philanthropy classes. And the Learning by Giving Foundation offers an online version, open to anyone in interested in learning how to give.

Music: "Philanthropy Intermission" by Audible Lab Rats from Project Philanthropy

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