Perennially our world faces tremendous challenges such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the need for quality healthcare. And, most recently, we have been devastated by the impact of the worldwide pandemic. A multitude of non-profits want to step into the void and assist with these issues, but their services require the resources to make it happen. With all of these pressing needs, how do donors make the decisions on where to invest their time, talent, and treasure?
Mays Business School lecturer, Kyle Gammenthaler ’11, understands this challenge. “There are a lot of places to give, so there’s the potential for paralysis by analysis,” he said. “Donors need to find a balance between their head and the heart. The heart is so important because it is the barometer of an individual’s passion. I tell my students to make decisions that are reasonable, rational, and logical. But at the same time, find things that you are passionate about.”
Gammenthaler’s Strategic Philanthropy course helps students do just that by placing them in the donor’s driver’s seat. On the first day of class, students receive $10 with the simple task of “doing good.” Student responses vary widely, including making care packages for teen moms, buying a meal for a homeless person and listening to their life story, and challenging friends to give the same amount to create a fund to purchase sports equipment for a local youth league.
This initial investment decision sets the stage for their deep dive into strategic philanthropy and how non-profits receive and disperse resources. In the class, students critically evaluate applications from numerous Brazos Valley non-profits and award grants from a pool of money that ranges between $50,000 and $100,000 each semester. Two years later, students meet with the grant recipients to learn how the gifts were used and the impact they made on the community.
The Strategic Philanthropy course has made a substantial impact on area non-profits, awarding a total of $600,000 since 2016. These funds are provided by The Philanthropy Lab (a part of the Once Upon a Time Foundation), the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, the VanLoh Family, and Cheryl Mellenthin.
The real beneficiaries, however, are the students. “We’re developing and encouraging the next generation of givers,” Gammenthaler said. “There’s nothing bigger than being able to give your voice, ability, time, and money to a cause in which you truly believe in.”