Inspired by a book I’m currently reading called The Wisdom of Finance, I’ve realized that the strategic philanthropy process and the investment process have quite a lot in common. The parallels between the world of finance and the world of philanthropy are fascinating to me. Perhaps these similarities should be unremarkable to me, as both philanthropy and finance can be seen as disciplines under the umbrella of commerce. Nonetheless, my mind keeps wandering back to the junctures between the two.

It’s as if we, as the Strategic Philanthropy class, are a sort of angel investor or venture capitalist. We painstakingly comb through a seemingly endless list of suitors, searching for the perfect match among countless deserving groups. Like many venture capitalist business models, we’re focused on capitalizing on under-funded ideas by offering advice and funding over an extended time period. We must ensure that the investment makes sense in macro as well as the micro, ensuring that big problems are being tackled by the right people.

There is opportunity for waste, fraud, and disappointment. There is also opportunity to serve as a catalyst for life-improving change. This is only one example among many of the synergies between finance and philanthropy.

by Leland Cook ’19

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During one of our class discussions a quote was spoken that stuck with me: “Social change is messy.” It is one thing to donate to a philanthropic cause, but it is another to dive into the root cause of the situation and enact change. It is not uncommon to hear others wanting to “make a difference,” but I think we often underestimate that goal. In order to bring about change, we must be willing to “get messy” and discover the dirty details behind the situation we are trying to mitigate.

Apart from just researching the in’s and out’s of philanthropy, we must also be willing to engage with all necessary stakeholders surrounding the problem at hand. In order to ensure philanthropic funds are used properly we must not only do our own research on the organizations’ financials, historical track, and mission, but partner with those behind the wheels as another rider. As we begin to communicate transparency between organizations, we will not only gain a stronger sense of the organization’s legitimacy, but learn what it is the organization needs to do good. While everyday donations are always appreciated, it is the partnership between those with resources and those with knowledge that enables real change to occur.

Additionally, we must begin to interact with those who are being helped. Further engagement will not only give us a sense of the root cause of the problem, but enable us to see what it is that others really need, despite what they are given. Furthermore, at the root of every person is the desire to feel connected to others. One of the best things we can do is to give our time and attention to the people we are helping. We may find that the thing they actually needed cannot be bought at all.

After we have begun interacting with a philanthropic cause on a deeper level, we will have gained a better sense of the problem, but we cannot stop here. Apart from understanding our own donating habits, we must encourage our community to buy into this as well. In a world where we are interconnected and listen to one another, we will be able to work together creatively to solve real problems. Instead of putting band-aids on different situations, we will be able to communicate proactively and impact efficiently.

As much as we want to believe, philanthropy and social change cannot be accomplished with excellence apart from a messy endeavor. Time must be invested, relationships must be built, and engagement must be present. Although this will not happen all at once, I believe that if we all contribute what we can with the time we have, we will collectively begin to make a magnificent mess of the world around us.

by Chelsea Rios ’18

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I cannot think of a time in my past that I really asked myself, “What does philanthropy mean to me?” Although I would like to consider myself to be a “service-minded” person, I do not think I ever versed this thought in terms of “philanthropy.” Growing up, giving seemed to be something that was the job of my parents, as they were the ones who made money, and then giving to me was more in the currency of time, but even that was often in fulfillment of required community service hours. There was one summer when I fell in love with the senior citizens who played games at The Friendship Center in my town and my heart for service transcended past my required hours. Yet, philanthropy was more of a word that I associated with the places I would go. Before further consideration, I do not believe I viewed philanthropy as I do now. To me, philanthropy is an integral part of society that fills in the gaps where people fall through—often for reasons not self-imposed.

Philanthropy serves to return to humanism and the true meaning of community—humans helping humans for no other reason than the fact that we are all in this life together and all need helping hands.Philanthropy does what we all should be doing in some capacity or another, and that is providing the means to fulfill others’ basic human rights either by relief, improvement, social reform, or civic engagement. It is the institutions set in place to serve others, and it is the mindset that others have to give selflessly. Philanthropy is the decision to live on less so that someone else may live on more. I think if everyone looked at life with a philanthropic mindset over our natural selfish inclinations, our world would look very different.

So that’s my new view of philanthropy as a whole, but what does that tangibly look like in my life today and in the future is another question. If I see such purpose in philanthropy, should I not be actively participating in it, in any small means I have? The answer to that is yes, yet the reality of that is that I could be doing a much better job. I am grateful that this class has changed the way I look at philanthropy. I pride myself in “strategic thinking” being one of my Strengths Quest verified strengths, yet I failed to look at philanthropy as something that could be applied to. I viewed philanthropy as a social obligation, yet I wrapped myself into the exclusion principle of “but I’m a student.” But the truth is, I will not be a student forever, nor do I not currently have the capacity to still give regularly regardless. For the price of a coffee which I mindlessly purchase, my money could be managed better to establish more capacity to give. I do not believe it is healthy to take an extremist view and live in self-deprivation, but living modestly so that money can be budgeted to give is what I believe will be my mantra, so that giving can assert itself as one of my non-negotiable values.

By Sarah Swift ’20

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As the semester comes to a close, a select group of Mays Business School students have been busy impacting the local Brazos Valley Community. The Mays Strategic Philanthropy course just wrapped up decision making on how to distribute $62,500 in grant funding.

Five nonprofits were selected to receive funding:

It will take a mix of strategy and innovative approaches to achieve Mays Business School’s vision to advance the world’s prosperity, but an effort to “do good” in our local community is one step forward.

Courtesy of the generous support from The Philanthropy Lab and a newfound partnership with the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation’s Community Grant Program, 17 Mays Business School undergraduates were challenged with distributing $62,500 to local nonprofit organizations. Each student assumed the role of a board member while essentially running a private foundation for a semester.

Throughout this process, the student board strived to elevate and empower nonprofits to accomplish their missions.

…Read more

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Any kind of deliberation is difficult. But when you’re deliberating in regard to philanthropies, the task gets even more difficult. Not to mention you have many rival opinions to consider. When deliberating these past few days over which philanthropies would advance to the next round, I found myself in awe of the different viewpoints surrounding my own. I could so easily have a positive view toward one organization, while another person could see something completely opposite.

This variance makes me appreciate our differences. No two people think the same, and even if two people’s decisions happen to align, the thought process in getting there differs greatly. I loved watching people come to conclusions and argue for their cause. Watching other get fired up over helping the needy fires me up!

Ultimately, this activity has renewed my hope in philanthropic giving. All too often I sit and wonder what’s happening to our world – why doesn’t anyone make moves? Why are we all sitting around waiting for someone else to get the job done? While this mentality is pervasive, I am thankful for people who want to fight. People who want to see change happen!

by Cristi Keeter ’18

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A few months ago, Jeff Bezos sent out an unprecedented tweet asking his followers to suggest how he might use his amassed wealth to do immediate good in the world. Some criticized him – didn’t he have advisors who were paid handsomely to do this kind of research for him? Was this merely a PR plug to make himself, a multibillionaire, appear more human, more compassionate than people would assume?

I didn’t think so. In fact, my initial reaction was quite the opposite. Here was a man who had absolutely no obligation to please the general public with how he chooses to give away his money. He is not an elected official –he is a brilliant entrepreneur who has completely upended the entire retail industry and revolutionized how people do business with one another. He didn’t lack to good PR to become successful – he is already one of the most successful CEOs in modern history.

I interpreted his tweet not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of humility. He inadvertently acknowledged that he didn’t know it all, and that his Twitter followers might. Of course, he is still going to heed the advice of experts, but he also inspired people to come up with creative ideas and share them in a public space. I believe that the absurdly wealthy should use their resources to help others, but I believe that part of their duty is to not only give, but call attention to the idea of giving and inspire others to give too.

It is unlikely that I will ever experience the kind of potential to do good that Mr. Bezos does, but this class is as close as I have ever come. With great power comes great responsibility, and I know that I, personally, would like to have as much input and information from as many sources as possible in my pursuit for creating the most meaningful impact in the community.

by Hannah Walsh ’18

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Earlier this semester, we watched a Ted Talk presentation by Peter Singer, who is a philosopher and author from Australia. Singer started the presentation off by showing the video of a little girl who got run over by a vehicle. The vehicle kept driving and three people passed by the poor little girl as she slowly died. Singer followed this sad scene by asking the audience, “Would you have stopped and helped?” As expected, every single hand shot up in the crowd in agreement. However, Singer criticizes everyone because 19,000 children die each year from poverty-related diseases that could be prevented.

This led to the discussion of effective altruism, which is a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. One of Singer’s greatest beliefs is that helping more people is better than helping less. As an example, he states that it costs around $40,000 to help a blind man and guide dog be properly trained in America. That same $40,000 could cure 400 to 2,000 people in developing countries with a blind condition. Singer believes the easy answer is that assisting the people in the developing country is more important because it would help more people.

Personally, I do not agree with Singer with this mindset. Helping more people always sounds better on paper, but philanthropy is much more complex than that. If someone close to you became blind, most people’s instinct would be to help them. Singer’s ideology would tell you to avoid helping the person you love and give your money to people you have never met in your life. I believe that effective altruism is important when considering how to put philanthropy into action, but there is no formula for determining who to help.

Effective altruism uses reason to figure out how to help, not who to help. That leaves it to the altruist to decide who they should help according to their own personal judgement. Philanthropy is not measured by the number of people you can reach, but by the quality of impact you are able to make. If you have the opportunity to help someone in crucial need who you love, that takes priority.

Overall, effective altruism can help give you meaning and fulfillment. Whether you are helping a person you are close to or a complete stranger, you will leave feeling good and accomplished.

by Josh Harris ’16

 

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Mays Business School – Strategic Philanthropy

Community Grant Program

(Due by 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29)

     Mays Business School’s Strategic Philanthropy course, in partnership with the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, is currently accepting applications from local area community organizations for its Community Grant Program. To be eligible, an organization must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity based in the Brazos Valley. Applicants must submit an application detailing their programming and budget requirements for the upcoming year at the following link:

CLICK HERE FOR APPLICATION – 2017-2018 COMMUNITY GRANT APPLICATION

The maximum grant awarded will be no more than $25,000

The deadline to submit applications is Sept. 29. The 2017-2018 Community Grant recipients will be announced in December.

The application link above should answer some questions, while all others should be directed to Kyle Gammenthaler at kgammenthaler@mays.tamu.edu.

Thank you!

Mays Strategic Philanthropy Board

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Everybody’s journey is different. For some, the journey through life takes unimaginable twists and turns, while for others, the journey is pretty straightforward; turn here, turn there, and stop at this point. The common theme in everyone’s journey though is there is a beginning point and ending point. These two distinct places are what bracket the excitement and thrill of the moments in between. There is comfort in knowing where you are and having an idea of where you are going. What happens in the middle is the part that makes all the difference as to whether you make it to your destination or not.

Mays Business School embarked on a journey over the past year to “advance the world’s prosperity.” This “end point” is admittedly bold and requires a significant amount of work and intentional decision making to accomplish. Like many journeys, though, I strongly believe this one begins locally. There are issues that surround the physical Texas A&M community, for which some could argue, we are bound by duty to help address. We are lucky to have a vibrant nonprofit environment that embraces the Texas A&M community with open arms. Advancing the world’s prosperity will take a mix of strategy and innovative approaches, and this semester’s Strategic Philanthropy class embraced this desire for impact and went on a journey of their own in an effort to “do good.”

Courtesy of the generous support from the Once Upon a Time Foundation and the VanLoh Family, 25 Mays Business School undergraduates were challenged with giving away $100,000 to nonprofit organizations. Each student assumed the role of a board member while essentially running a private foundation for a semester. Every piece of learning was oriented toward the goal of not only distributing the $100,000, but doing it in a way that elevates and empowers nonprofits to accomplish their missions.

Molly Legband ’19, sophomore business honors student, best described this course experience when she said, “the journey I will take is so much better than any journey I can plan for myself.” We began the semester by laying the foundation of philanthropic ideals and values, examining historical trends, and confronting various issues in the philanthropic environment. These theoretical underpinnings were certainly used as guiding points throughout the semester. However, as students interacted with local and international nonprofit leaders, heard from experts in the field, and observed the work being done on site visits, the journey took twists and turns. When reality confronts theory, we are forced to reconcile the differences for ourselves. We were continually amazed at the level of passion and dedication that these nonprofit leaders exhibited.

At the end of the day, these twists and turns are what make this class unique. On one hand, we are learning about how to strategically and effectively run a private foundation and grant-making operation. On the other hand, we are entering into the unknown of philanthropy and realizing that social issues are complicated, complex, and nuanced.

There is no recipe or guidebook to how to specifically solve poverty or homelessness or any other prevalent social issue. The journey is equal part exciting and equal part terrifying. Our class started with a desire to “do good” and ended with giving away $100,000, but what happened in between is what made the journey so special.

by Kyle Gammenthaler M.S. ’11, lecturer and Coordinator for Social Impact Initiatives

If you would like to learn more about our nonprofit partners, please visit their websites to see how you can get involved.

Northway Farms
Rebuilding BCS
Children’s Relief International 
Children’s Miracle Network
Still Creek Ranch
Adera Foundation 
Arts Council of the Brazos Valley
Down Syndrome Association of the Brazos Valley

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