After seeing how much their daughter Grace learned in a new “Strategic Philanthropy” course at Mays Business School, Wil and Jennifer VanLoh donated money to fund the next two courses. A portion of their $140,000 gift to Mays through the Texas A&M Foundation will provide grants for students to distribute to local nonprofits through the course, while remaining funds will help cover operating costs.
The course that debuted last spring gives undergraduate students at Mays first-hand experience in the world of nonprofit work. In the first program of its kind to be offered at an SEC school and the first at a business school, students get the chance to learn about various facets of philanthropy, hear from philanthropic leaders and experience the grant-making process from a foundation’s perspective.
Wil VanLoh, founder and CEO of Quantum Energy Partners, said his family routinely holds meetings to make philanthropic decisions for their family foundation. “My wife and I are intentional about including our kids in our decisions,” he said. “We think being good stewards of the resources we are given is a big responsibility, and something we don’t think a lot of people take seriously enough.
“We believe modeling generosity for our kids is one of the greatest gifts we can give them as it helps them understand that one is more blessed to give than to receive. We get tremendous joy out of giving and we want them to experience that at a young age to set the tone for the rest of their life.”
VanLoh said he was impressed with the course, which he said should be offered across the university – and not just at the business school. “This is an all-around great set of skills for these students, and it benefits the community they live in while they’re attending college, so it has a significant ripple effect,” he said.
A strong start
During the first course, students allocated $50,000 in grant money donated by the Once Upon A Time Foundation to five Brazos Valley nonprofit organizations. After students sent out requests for proposals, they spent weeks learning about the organizations vying for funds and conducting site visits. They distributed funds to BCS Marathon, Boys and Girls Club of Brazos Valley, Elder Aid, Health for All and Voices for Children.
Course instructor Kyle Gammenthaler ’11, who worked with nonprofit organizations before joining Mays, said he was pleasantly surprised by the gift. “No matter what you do or what role you have in a company, you will encounter nonprofit organizations,” he said. “Without understanding how they work, you’re just a neutral third-party observer. We hope to teach students the unique rules and processes of the nonprofit world, so they can have an immediate impact in their communities.”
A lasting impact
Grace VanLoh, now a Business Honors sophomore at Mays, said the class has been her most impactful yet. It taught her that giving is a hard task that must be taken seriously. Donating without doing research on the nonprofit’s history, employees and finances could actually hurt the organization, she said. “The class made me think about my personal values in giving: Would I rather give a lot to a few people, or a little to many people? Is there a specific area I’m drawn to?” she said. “All in all, the strategic philanthropy class sparked the beginning of my journey to learn about and value giving.”
One of the first-semester recipients was Health For All, a free health clinic in Bryan. Elizabeth Dickey, executive director, said she considered it “a joy to work with the Strategic Philanthropy students,” and said she looks forward to a long-lasting partnership with the program. “The students were completely invested in understanding the issues nonprofits face and helping us solve them,” she said. “Health For All’s board recognized the potential in these young philanthropists and jumped at the chance to harness their passion and intelligence to further our mission.”
Two class members – Zach Marbach and Ashley Adair – joined the clinic’s board of directors as full voting members soon after the class concluded. “We look forward to developing a format that will advance the next generation of board members as well as the health of our community,” Dickey said.
Health for All Board Chair Lisa Halperin stated in a message to the Once Upon a Time Foundation the personal philanthropic education of the students who took the course was its most important outcome. Before the class, all of the students said they had delayed giving, thinking that they needed to wait until they graduated and had a job. “Before the class, they had not given in any meaningful way,” she explained. “While they might give a dollar here or there, they only did so when directly asked, and they never gave much thought about how the money was used.”
After taking the class, Halperin said, students indicated they reworked their budgets to support the charities. “In addition, they all desired to help foster change with their giving, not just provide temporary solutions,” she said. “It was one of the most demanding courses the students had taken – and the most transformational in reevaluating their lives and goals. Kudos!”