Helping Mays Business School students understand the nuts and bolts of philanthropy by giving away up to $75,000 themselves is always thrilling.
Kyle, who teaches the Strategic Philanthropy class as coordinator of the Certificate in Nonprofit and Social Innovation at Mays, told a crowd of about eighty who gathered for the semester’s check presentations on April 29 that it all started in 2015, when he had “a brilliant idea—that it would be great if students gave away money in a class.”
And this spring, the course’s students, funding recipients, and donors celebrated a huge milestone—passing the $500,000 mark in total giving to organizations in Bryan-College Station.
From $0 to $500,000 in Three Years
With support from Mays administration and generous donors—notably The Philanthropy Lab, a Fort-Worth-area organization that supports about twenty such classes around the country—students provided the first round of funding in spring 2016.
Now, thanks to additional donors, notably the VanLoh family and Cheryl Mellenthin, the class is one of the most successful of its kind in the country.
The VanLohs began donating after seeing the transformational experience their daughter, business honors graduate Grace VanLoh ’19, had as a student in the very first class.
For Cheryl Mellenthin, visiting with Mays students on a Philanthropy Friday was all it took.
“She texted me that night and asked, ‘Where do I send the check?’” Kyle says.
John Sharp ’72, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, attended the April 29 celebration and later said, “The Mays Business School’s philanthropy program is a great example of putting the Aggie values to work.”
Former Student Body President Amy Sharp ’19, a business honors graduate who took the class previously, announced at the event that the two representatives present from The Philanthropy Lab—both Aggies—had decided to give an additional $10,000 in honor of Chancellor Sharp’s visit.
“This has to be the easiest $10,000 Chancellor Sharp ever gave!” she said.
Student-Driven Impact in the Brazos Valley
The eighteen students in the May 2019 class funded eight organizations.
Marketing major and class member Shelby Edwards ’19 says a Charles Dickens quote inspired her to sign up: “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
But for Shelby, the class proved to be life-changing.
“I know that what I learned about working with others to make decisions and about how I can make a real impact, even as a younger person, will influence me not only in my profession, but in my personal life, as well,” she says.
The class started the semester by learning about philanthropy and how nonprofits work in general, with a focus on strategic giving and the “why” behind charitable giving.
They crafted their own mission statement as the “why” to guide their decisions: “to thoughtfully invest in nonprofits in the Brazos Valley to move toward their visions and build better communities.”
Next, they chose ten nonprofits for closer review and broke into smaller groups to visit two organizations each. They then shared what they learned with the others and used their strategic approach to make the final decisions on which organizations to fund.
“Giving the money away was an absolute joy,” Shelby says. “The nonprofits showed us gaps in our community that we had not seen before. We were amazed at what they do to make life better for people here.
“My takeaway is that we all have the ability to give money, or time, or effort, not ‘one day,’ but right now, even if we are young and just starting out. We are a generation that can make a difference!”
A Simple but Life-Changing Idea
Business honors Jimmie Fields ’21 explained the powerful concept that inspired the class to fund OnRamp.
“Entrepreneurship is about finding the main pressure point and exploiting it,” he says. “The Jennings family has done just this in the Bryan-College Station area by giving reliable, pre-owned cars to people in need.”
The class gave $11,000 to cover the cost of two cars. OnRamp has provided 23 cars since the organization was founded about eighteen months ago. Other local charities refer clients to the Jennings family for consideration.
“As a pastor at a local church, I meet a lot of single moms who are near poverty and who cannot afford reliable transportation,” Blake Jennings says. “As a result, they find it hard to hold down a job, hard to get their kids to school, and hard to get to doctors’ appointments. My wife and I wanted to do something about it—to serve others just as we encourage our congregation to serve others.”
The Transformational Effect of Mays Philanthropy
Students are transformed by the class in many ways.
For example, Mays graduate Zach Marbach ’17, who took the inaugural class in spring 2016, is now an Associate Program Director with The Philanthropy Lab, as is fellow Aggie Megan Mader ’12. In addition, other students have joined the boards of the nonprofits represented or otherwise made charitable giving a priority in their lives.
“We are incredibly grateful to all who entrust our students to make life-changing decisions with their money,” Kyle Gammenthaler says. “Our next goal: to pass the one-million-dollar mark.”
In addition to OnRamp, the following local charities received funding this semester:
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network
- Health For All
- Scotty’s House
- Sexual Assault Resource Center
- United Way of the Brazos Valley
- VOOM Foundation
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