On the eve of the famous March Madness tournament, I could not help but draw a connection to our Strategic Philanthropy course. The NCAA Division I basketball tournament goes by a myriad of names such as the Tourney, the Brackets, March Madness, and my personal favorite, The Big Dance. There’s something inherently invigorating about watching 64 teams duke it out in arguably the greatest sporting tournament on the planet. There will be Cinderella stories, buzzer beaters, upsets and heartbreaks, but most of all there will be great sport. The road to the championship will be long, and the process full of ups and downs. However, through the muck and the mire, one team will arise as the shining Cinderella champion of The Big Dance.

As I read the summaries of the 21 organizations which have made it to our class’s “Big Dance,” I was blown away. People do incredible things to bring healing to hurting hearts. From surgeons traversing continents to do specialized surgeries, to local museums offering free arts and craft to children, people all over the planet philanthropically donate what they can to bring peace and joy to others. It’s so encouraging to read about the many beautiful ways people are getting off the sideline of passivity and getting in the game to make a difference! The expressions of philanthropy are as unique as the people involved, but the result is pretty much the same, great service.

Reading the stories and desires behind just a handful of nonprofits excited me greatly, but then a stark reality hit me. We, as the students of the 2017 Mays Strategic Philanthropy course, cannot give funds to all of them. I was sorely disappointed at this realization as every organization seems deserving in some capacity or another. Unfortunately, our resources are limited, and we have to endure the process of whittling down our bracket to just a few “Cinderellas.” I wish we had infinite glass slippers to give out!

However, since we do not, we welcome all 21 of these fantastic organizations to our own rendition of The Big Dance. I am excited to thoughtfully discuss and consider each one of these nonprofits as we take the current group down from 21 to 12 this week in class. I’m sure there will be some buzzer beaters, maybe even a few heartbreaks, but I’m confident as a class, we will come together to make great decisions. Preferences will have to be put aside at times, and tough decisions will be made, but ultimately, we can rest easy knowing that our efforts will end in celebration. Our mission is to empower Brazos Valley nonprofits to continue creating measurable and sustainable solutions through the investment of our resources. And to that end, I say let the madness begin.

Welcome to The Big Dance.

by Michael Smith ’20

Categories: Uncategorized

Why did I sign up for this class (if you can even call it that)? Was it because a friend recommended it to me? Was it because I thought it would look good on my resume? Was it because I thought giving away $100,000 would be cool? What were my motives?

After discussing altruism in class, I am beginning to doubt if any of my intentions can be totally pure. I look at decisions I make in my own life: the people I choose to surround myself with, the organizations I join, the jobs I apply for, and at the end of the day there is this little voice in my head that always want to do what is best for me. You can call it self-preservation, the flesh or whatever you want, but deep down in all of us there is this desire to better ourselves, and to look out for our own glory and success.

You might be wondering what this has anything to do with strategic philanthropy, but I think it is important. The word philanthropy literally translates to the love of humanity. That goes completely against what is natural. Naturally, we want to love ourselves and look out for our own interests, but philanthropy is about loving others and looking out for the interests of others. This is why I think philanthropy can get messy, because it is so unnatural. However, we know from history that living a life for yourself is the most miserable existence you can live.

I believe that motives matter. I believe that the reasons why you do something are just as important as the actual things you do. How can you measure that? How can you quantify motive? You can’t.

I’m beginning to learn that there are so many things in the non-profit world that you just can’t measure. All I can do is hold myself accountable and question why I make the choices that I make. Do I make them out of egoism, purely for my gain? Do I make decisions expecting to get something in return? Do I give so people can know how “great” I am? Do I give solely out of financial or social benefit? Do I give because it just makes me feel good? I hope this experience teaches me how to remove myself as far away as possible from the act of giving and makes it solely about the people and causes being supported. I hope it shows me how to fight that inner voice that wants so desperately to fight for what is best for me.

-Claire Harper ’18

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img_0068Each student in the Strategic Philanthropy class was given $10 at the end of the first day of class. Their sole objective was to “do good” with the funds over the next week. Every student reported out on their experience in the classroom setting.

My perception of the value of 10 dollars is radically altered when looking at it under different circumstances. Ten dollars for a meal? Too expensive to sustain regularity in a college budget. Ten dollars for a shirt? It’s a deal! Ten dollars freely given with the intent of doing good? Influential, to say the least. When originally confronted with the assignment, I was enthused and confident that I would complete it with dignity and flair.

Given 10 dollars, I felt I must give it away in a groundbreaking display of philanthropy. That is an overly glorified explanation of what we were tasked to do, but that’s essentially how I viewed the exercise. I was hopeful that in donating the 10 dollars extravagantly, I could engender the most beneficial effect. Immediately, my mind began to swirl with possibilities and I found myself envisioning grand plans for the worn, crinkled bill safeguarded in my wallet.

Because it was not money of my own, I felt a compounded pressure to be a wise and responsible steward. What could possibly be worthy of my 10 dollars? Therein the problem lied. The first few days the sum was in my care, I devoted unreasonable amounts of energy attempting to determine the most perfect, impactful, grandiose cause. Consequently, I missed the true worth in what philanthropy is all about.

In overlooking the ordinary to solely emphasize the extraordinary, I neglected to recognize that day-to-day philanthropy is just as crucial, if not even more so, than the philanthropy we read about in the news. We are each charged with resources, the amounts of which doesn’t alter the obligations we have to serve and to not only disseminate prosperity, but to save lives, to relieve needs. I’ve come to know that no matter the numbers on your bank statement, the necessity and desire for philanthropy does not diminish. Relationships are forged and morale is strengthened when investments are made in time, energy, and attention in addition to funds.

We often witness calls for sweeping reform, widespread shifts in ideology and practice, yet we each fail each day in our own right. We fail to hold up our end of the bargain, we fail to fundamentally understand our role in the bigger picture. I concede that most of us are not as powerful or wealthy as the Andrew Carnegies and Bill Gateses of this world, but that in no way eliminates our power to do good with what we’ve been given.

“Do good.” That was our simple assignment. Never did the professor lay out parameters or benchmarks for what qualified as “good.” Never did he express any possibility of disappointment in our philanthropic endeavors should we fall short of expectations. No. All that was said was “Do good with this 10 dollars.” There’s something haunting in the simplicity of the charge. In fact, my mind translated the simple and joyful task into something stressful and wrought with ambition. I set out to impress rather than to bless, and that was a major flaw in my strategy.

After days of wrestling with the endless possibilities before me, a paradigm shift occurred in my approach. I felt convicted for deeming local and daily opportunities unworthy of this bill. I realized I was ascribing unfounded prestige upon the 10 dollars, imposing a haughty demeanor on the money. It was then that I began to grasp what living in a posture of philanthropy entails. It does not boast and does not need attention to bear worth. I then was enlightened to the idea that the most glorious gifts and donations are those that are presented with grace, humility and love.

Loving people does not look like a huge check flung at those in need. Loving people does not look like showy gestures inflicted to enhance the giver’s vanity. Love is not a competition, especially when everyone does his or her part. In its own context, philanthropy is an expression of love and a demonstration of genuine regard for others.

by Natalie Braun ’19

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