The beginning of a new semester always brings a mix of excitement and nerves for professors and students alike. Students face the unknowns of group work, interpersonal relationships, grades and student-teacher dynamics, while professors consider, well… many of those same things. On top of all that, this semester’s Strategic Philanthropy course is tasked with the incredible responsibility of deciding how to distribute $100,000 to nonprofit organizations. The issue is not “what” we are going to do, but it is more focused on “how” we are going to get

Approaching this course is like approaching a new golf course without ever having viewed the course layout. The basics of golf are easy: Hit a small ball into a small hole 18 times. It is that easy right?  Not quite. Adding unknown variables to an already difficult activity is especially challenging.

Many may disagree, but the beauty of golf exists in this infinite number of unknowns along the way. There are always challenges and opportunities around the corner, or over the next hill, which test your physical and mental abilities. In a span of four hours, you are frustrated, humbled, overjoyed and probably frustrated some more. Walking away from the round, though, you realize that you’ve overcome challenges, had great conversation with friends and enjoyed much-needed time in the great outdoors. You knew your end goal all along, but the journey to the 18th hole was formidable and exhilarating.

Likewise, I know where this class is going. At the end of this class we will join in celebration with nonprofit partners as we honor the work they are doing. That is a known quantity that is easy for me to wrap my head around. The journey, though, is much less clear. This semester, my role as facilitator places much of the decision-making process onto the students. Our students make many important and life-changing decisions throughout this course – many of which have no clear right or wrong answers. I am confident that this talented group of 25 Mays students is ready for the challenge and to face the unknown. In order for this class to be successful, my students will need to collaborate with each other, compromise when it’s hardest to do so, and commit to an experience that can significantly alter their perspectives.

Please join us this semester as we venture into the unknowns of philanthropic giving and pursue impact in our local community!

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After seeing how much their daughter Grace learned in a new “Strategic Philanthropy” course at Mays Business School, Wil and Jennifer VanLoh donated money to fund the next two courses. A portion of their $140,000 gift to Mays through the Texas A&M Foundation will provide grants for students to distribute to local nonprofits through the course, while remaining funds will help cover operating costs.


Philanthropy is a way of life for the VanLoh family – from left, Grace, Mary, Wil, Jennifer and Sarah.

The course that debuted last spring gives undergraduate students at Mays first-hand experience in the world of nonprofit work. In the first program of its kind to be offered at an SEC school and the first at a business school, students get the chance to learn about various facets of philanthropy, hear from philanthropic leaders and experience the grant-making process from a foundation’s perspective.

Wil VanLoh, founder and CEO of Quantum Energy Partners, said his family routinely holds meetings to make philanthropic decisions for their family foundation. “My wife and I are intentional about including our kids in our decisions,” he said. “We think being good stewards of the resources we are given is a big responsibility, and something we don’t think a lot of people take seriously enough.

“We believe modeling generosity for our kids is one of the greatest gifts we can give them as it helps them understand that one is more blessed to give than to receive. We get tremendous joy out of giving and we want them to experience that at a young age to set the tone for the rest of their life.”

VanLoh said he was impressed with the course, which he said should be offered across the university – and not just at the business school. “This is an all-around great set of skills for these students, and it benefits the community they live in while they’re attending college, so it has a significant ripple effect,” he said. …Read more

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Next semester, Mays Business School will continue its successful initiative called Strategic Philanthropy. Thanks to generous gifts from a private donor and a philanthropic organization, this course is available to Mays Business School students. Texas A&M joins the ranks of other schools from across the nation as they engage local communities with targeted philanthropic efforts.

The Strategic Philanthropy course will examine historical philanthropic developments, philanthropic leadership, grant making and experiential giving. The hallmark of this class is that students will determine how to distribute $100,000 to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Through this exciting and intensive process, students will examine their personal philanthropic motivations, learn how foundations make decisions and apply this learning to real-world scenarios. Please apply if you’d like to take part in this unique opportunity to make a difference and be a part of social change!

We are currently accepting applications to enroll in this course. Additional details can be found on the link below. The class size will be limited to 25 students this year to make sure we are effective and efficient in making our giving decisions.

The application is due by 5 p.m. on Oct. 14th.

Application Link: Spring 2017 – Strategic Philanthropy Application

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about this special opportunity!

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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

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Passion was very present throughout our final board meeting. Several board members spoke up boldly while others processed more internally. By voting, we ensured all voices were heard to a certain extent. Ultimately we can’t all walk away 100 percent satisfied. However, we can all walk away 100% confident we are going to have a positive and sustainable impact on the Brazos Valley.

We will witness the fruits of some of this impact when we return in a year to follow-up with the organizations. However, these funds will have a multitude of effects we may never see. While we can’t measure the full extent of the impact, we know in our hearts we made our decision with pure intentions and thorough determination.

We can find comfort and joy in knowing this is only the beginning. I am confident we are only the first of many Mays Strategic Philanthropy Board’s to serve at Texas A&M University. Future courses will expand on strategies we found successful, and learn from our mistakes. If I had one piece of advice to pass on to future classes it would be this: Throughout this course it’s easy to slip into the mindset that this is our money to give away. Remember this opportunity is a gift in and of itself. Giving, by nature, isn’t even really about us anyway.

I believe we are better philanthropists and stronger individuals because of this process. We have challenged ourselves and expanded our view on philanthropy and the world at-large. We have changed our minds on certain issues a dozen times. We have experienced excitement and we have experienced frustration. We have grown in community and we have grown individually. We have listened to the hearts of one another, and we have been heard by each other. Our mission statement may read “We empower Brazos Valley nonprofits…” but over the past few months these nonprofits have empowered us.

by Ashley Adair ’17

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Through the process of evaluating nonprofits in the Brazos Valley and hearing about their missions, I have discovered much about the needs in my community, especially about the complexities surrounding the situations of those who are trapped in poverty. What makes many of the organizations in the Brazos Valley special is that their focus is greater than simply handing out resources to temporarily make the problems subside. Their goal is to address the root causes of the problems and to truly empower people in their community to make positive changes in their lives.

In particular, one organization has a program that provides educational opportunities and resources for single mothers in crisis situations. They want to partner with these women who go through their program by subsidizing the cost of housing, because they know that for mothers who support their family on a single income the task of covering all the costs of living can seem insurmountable. If a mother has this incentive, she will be able to better provide for herself and her children, possibly become less dependent on the system, and have more hope that she can work to attain a bright future for her family.

Another organization we spoke with provides healthcare for those who do not have insurance. This organization told us that because many of the low-income residents in the Brazos Valley do not have insurance, they feel like they have to put off going to the doctor for as long as possible because of the high costs – but often the problem will continue to intensify until they have to go to the hospital. This only further exacerbates both the medical and financial struggles they are facing. For this reason, the nonprofit hopes to provide a service where lower-income residents in the community can be treated with respect and excellent care without having to incur costly hospital bills or have to postpone treatment until a more serious problem exists.

Because of this class and the conversations I have been able to have with those who are actively engaging in the efforts to help our neighbors in the Brazos Valley, I have a much better understanding of how many different factors contribute to a cycle of poverty, and I feel that I am much better equipped to use my resources to truly help others and address root problems in my community.

by Mallory Smith ’19

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The other day we spent time reflecting on the course of the semester during one of our class sessions. When asked how our view of philanthropy Rachel Welchhad changed over the course of the semester, I immediately thought about a somewhat life-changing decision I had made.

A couple of weeks ago I made the decision to drop finance as a major. Along with this, I have also decided that I want to go to law school. I think taking this class and participating in all the discussions played a crucial role in my decision. There was one class in particular where we watched a TED Talk where the question was posed, “Is it more valuable to be an aid worker or – if you have the skills – employ five other aid workers?” I spent quite a bit of time discussing this question with friends outside of class and reflecting on my answer. My thoughts centered on the idea of maximizing impact versus finding a career that makes me happy. There is definitely a continuous spectrum on which we all fall.

As a finance major I would most likely end up in a field helping people understand how and where to invest their money. This would definitely be a high-profile career that could help me earn enough money to probably employee more than five aid workers, but that did not motivate or excite me about the future. Every time I went to my finance classes I felt more and more selfish and less and less like myself. I am not saying that a career in finance is a selfish career – it is definitely necessary and a noble calling to manage money well – but for me I could not come to terms with spending my life telling people or companies how to make more money.

So, came the question: If I am so unhappy, why am I choosing to invest my time in this? I was dreading going to class, and even opening my textbook. For someone who has always loved school and studying, it was a foreign concept. I needed to find that spark again.

I sat down with a local attorney in late February. He talked about doing something new every day, getting to teach and educate people, and most of all being a servant to his clients. He was the voice for so many, and loved every minute of it. For me it was the perfect combination of all that I had been searching for in a career. The passion and joy that he expressed was overflowing and contagious. I knew after meeting with him what I needed to do.

That next week I met with my advisor, and then dropped financ
e, picked up an LSAT course, and began my journey to becoming a lawyer. At the beginning of the semester if I had been asked how I would give back after college, you would have probably heard an answer about tithing 10 percent and maybe serving on a board. This answer views giving as tangible actions. This answer also misses the passion I now have.

I now believe giving should not be a single, separate element of our life. It is not simply a checklist. It should be something we get to practice every day, in any capacity. For me, this means one day serving one client at a time to the best of my ability. I do not need to hire five people to serve as aid workers when I have the passion and drive to make a change myself. Everyone has different skills and talents, but we must align them with what we are passionate about.

The argument that Peter Singer gave in the TED Talk leaves out the key factor in success: passion. You cannot be motivated without it. Although I could have been successful in a financial field, I lacked the passion to motivate me to accomplish it. Finding and pursuing our passions is what makes giving not a single action, but rather a lifestyle.

by Rachel Welch ’17

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Recently, our group came together to discuss the 22 organizations that submitted the “wish lists” for us to consider. I honestly kind of dreaded walking into that decision time because all 22 of the organizations are solid and have great programs. However, I also realize that part of this class, and our mission statement, is to be strategic in how we allot the $50,000 that has been entrusted to us. That being said, the narrowing down to the 10 that will move on to be seriously considered for funding was necessary, and this type of discussion will have to happen again to get the final details ironed out.

The process as a whole was very efficient, and everyone had a voice. The point was made that everyone’s voice is important, which was a nice reminder for me, since I tend to not speak up in class for fear of not having anything important to say. The format of our conversations was a very open and respectful environment that sought to express the opinions of the majority and give ear to the concerns of the minority. We agreed on some things, and we naturally disagreed on others, but there was always the space to bring those disagreements to the forefront. Essentially, we struggled through them one by one together to get to the root of the matter. Since it was a student-moderated discussion, it gave me a better sense of all 20 of us being in this together as a team, getting through the uncomfortable process of telling deserving organizations “no,” and doing everything we can to ensure that the decisions we make as a board bring the most benefit to the Brazos Valley and meet the very real needs of those residing here.

Looking at the 22 organizations, there were some clear yes’s and some clear no’s, but the middle ground was very tough to navigate. I felt like I had to emotionally remove myself at times to make my decisions, and the balance between head and heart was a tough one to strike. At the same time, however, I had to keep my cynicism in check so that I ended up with something on my list at the end of it. I honestly did not think it was going to be that difficult to narrow it down to 10, but discussing everything with the board and hearing the reasoning behind my peers’ choices was a very beneficial element of this whole process. It was also comforting to know that other people were feeling the same thing because, ultimately, we all agree on wanting to help others and make the biggest impact possible. It is quite a powerful thing to be working with 19 other people who all share the same heart and all strive toward the same goal.

  • by Bailey Smith ’18

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We recently finalized our class/board mission statement, and I couldn’t be more impressed with our class. Our mission statement is to empower Brazos Valley nonprofits to advance positive and sustainable development through strategic giving.

The discussion that was had while we figured out exactly what we wanted to say was the epitome of productive collaboration. There is an unspoken sense of trust and respect woven into all of the conversations in class, and this day was no different. Ideas were suggested without hesitation because no one is afraid of having their ideas shot down by someone else. We built off each other, shared personal connotative meanings of words and rearranged phrases. All of this was done together as a group of 20 knowledgeable students.

I think it took longer than we all thought to be happy with the one sentence that would symbolize our class. I’m confident that everyone would agree, though, that it was definitely worth it. We now have a mission statement that our class couldn’t be more proud of. This experience showed me once more how this class is so much more than a class.  The 20 of us are working through real-world situations so we can affect and hopefully change the world around us.


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Philanthropy is a vast and deep topic to cover. Underneath the surface are innumerable questions and an even greater amount of possible answers. We certainly cannot – and do not – expect to answer all of these questions in one semester. However, asking the right questions is a great starting point in the process of discovering answers. Below is a sampling of questions posed by the class through the first few weeks of the semester.

“The question I ask myself is: What am I doing with my time, talents, and treasures? If only I could fully comprehend the gravity of the joyous responsibility I have to use what has been entrusted to me for the betterment of others.” – Kate Rohrbough ‘17

“Alternatively though, philanthropy as an act in and of itself raises questions of its own legitimacy. What is our place to give to these communities? What if we all of a sudden disturb their entire way of life? Do they even wish to have monetary assistance? What happens when that money goes away?” – Chris Haberberger ‘16

I ask myself, “is success measured by immediate impact or is there a deeper layer to uncover as we look to solve the world’s problems?” – Tyler Barnes ‘16

“Would you consider a failure in philanthropy to be effective?” – Kyle Heiner ‘18

“Is it necessary to have strategy, or the “head”, in philanthropy? Isn’t the point of philanthropy to give your own money to causes that you want to?” – Alyssa Brady ‘17

In discussing altruism: “How do you measure someone’s unselfishness?  Who could say that a person’s devotion to others is greater than another’s?” – Abby Behrens ‘16

“Can the value of philanthropic giving boil down to a numbers-based realism that minimizes the worth of some projects over others for the cause of monetary efficiency? Should giving only be measured by what is deemed “effective”; can it rightly view people as units and numbers?” – Sarah Steinman ‘18

“Are you giving? And is the organization to which you are giving benefitting society? Are you doing no harm with your gifts?” – Chandler Clark ‘18

“Could teaching how to give be the best gift of all?”Grace VanLoh ‘19

“Who should/shouldn’t have a say in their giving? Are they really putting their money toward the most important causes? What if we completely disregarded the who, what, when, and where and only looked at the why?” Ashley Adair ‘17

Some of these questions will be addressed this semester, and some will take a lifetime to comprehend. Either way, we are asking big questions in an effort to have a big impact. Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. I look forward to seeing how my own questions and the students’ evolve throughout the semester.

– Kyle Gammenthaler ’11, instructor

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