Courtesy of a $50,000 grant from the Once Upon a Time Foundation and their initiative called The Philanthropy Lab, Mays Business School embarked on an adventure that transformed the lives of many students while deeply impacting local community issues. Freshman Mallory Smith ’19 said, “I don’t want this class to be the end, but I want it to be just the beginning of a lifetime of giving and learning.” This diverse group of students challenged each other, themselves, and myself as we attempted to navigate the nebulous topic of philanthropy. By the end of the course, students were to strategically give away the entire $50,000 to local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. and they accomplished this with impeccable maturity and determination. These decisions did not come easy or without a significant amount of work and due diligence.

The student board used their mission statement; “We seek to empower Brazos Valley nonprofits to advance positive and sustainable development through strategic giving” to guide their decision making. In addition, they applied their learning by conducting interviews with key organizational staff and initiating site visits to the nonprofit organizations. Finally, the student board wrote and compiled full grant proposals, executive summaries and relevant financial data for each of the 10 finalists in order to discuss and deliberate the best use of these funds.

Our students took this challenge to heart and were able to strategically discuss the merits, challenges and concerns of every single proposal. Along the way, personal philanthropic ideals, values, and motivations were challenged, but a collaborative environment pervaded the inner workings of the class. According to graduating senior Taylor Mehling ’16, “We created a culture of collaboration, where every student genuinely wished to achieve the best solution. People laid aside their egos and spoke transparently about what they had learned through the due diligence process.”

Ultimately, the decision was made to distribute funding to five of the 10 nonprofit finalists through varying sizes of grants. This year’s chosen organizations are BCS Marathon, Boys and Girls Club of Brazos Valley, Elder Aid, Health For All and Voices for Children. Each has a mission and programmatic elements that bring about sustainable development throughout the Brazos Valley.

So often, the word “philanthropy” brings to mind the whims and fancies of well-known philanthropists and their vast amounts of money. Names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates and Buffet stand out among the crowd. The connotation is that the more money you amass, the greater influence you can have. What our students quickly uncovered was that philanthropy is much more delicate and immensely personal. Philanthropy should invoke a human element that starts as one looks inward and extends far beyond oneself into local, national, and global communities. Along the way, partnerships and collaborative efforts must develop if we are to solve our communities’ problems.

It was an honor to watch as our students stewarded a gift of significant proportion with dignity. My hope is that every student has gained the confidence to identify community issues, embrace the confidence to act, and bring others together to make a difference in their community. At the end of the day, it is not about the dollar amount given away. The real difference exists in the lives that will be impacted by these nonprofit organizations. This semester, we were able to link arms with local community partners as local issues were tackled. What a journey for myself, the students and our valued local nonprofit organizations!

by Kyle Gammenthaler, M.S. ’11