Mays Business School’s Strategic Philanthropy course, in partnership with the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, Aggieland Credit Union, and The Philanthropy Lab, is now accepting applications from local area community organizations for its Community Grant Program. Details can be found at the link below and the due date is February 10th by 5:00 pm. An organization must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity based in the Brazos Valley to be eligible.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
Prepare yourself because I am about to nerd out on Finance topics. I’ve learned in innumerable different classes and lecture classes about this issue of “Agency Problems” that management teams have when running a company.
The problems arise because management teams make decisions and strategic plans equipped with money that is not theirs, but the company’s. The effect is that decisions are made less rationally, more rashly, and without as much care because there is less responsibility tied to the money they are spending. In class the other day, a group of 20-year-olds gave away $100,000 easier with only minor issues and frustrations. This is the same group of people that individually have trouble spending $20 for a meal.
I had never actually felt the reality of what agency problems are until I took Strategic Philanthropy. How in the world was a group able to give away so much money with relatively little hesitation (marginally speaking, of course)? The only reason I can point to is a very distinct separation between the weight and responsibility of an amount of money far larger than any of us have seen and the cognitive decision-making minds of the people in the room. Even the smallest grant awe gave away, $5,000, is more money than any of us could individually afford to give away. When you think about it, it is truly remarkable that it actually took place.
Another way I like to think about it is if the situation had been turned around a little bit, I don’t think any decision could have been made. For example, what if all 25 members of our team had to put in $4,000 of their own money into the pot to make the $100,000? Not just some petty cash either, that would be what I call Sweat Equity, which is the type of money that you’d have worked hard for to save up. If that were the case, the tensions, frustrations, and already fiery opinions would have been magnified tenfold. In fact, I don’t think I could have handled the passion and emotion that that room would have contained. That’s a situation I don’t know if I would have signed up for.
At the end, $100,000 was given away gladly and with relative ease at the hands of 25 poor college kids. That is a feat in itself. I also did not expect to learn about financial management in this class, but this definitely turned into one of the wildest and clearest pictures of an agency problem that I could have imagined. I would also venture to say “problem” isn’t the best word for our class’s situation. It’s more of an “agency opportunity.” That being said, it’s a very interesting thing to note!
Selecting my top values from a worksheet with a list of values in class was not a new exercise for me, but the second portion of selecting social causes and issues and connecting them to my values brought a new aspect into the familiar exercise. It was interesting to look at my values and interests and see how they align. Most people automatically list “faith, family, friends” when looking at a list of values, but those seem to be a given, so I tried to think a little deeper and choose values that were not just surface level. However, when I thought about my values, specifically my top three values, I realized that family is one of my core values because of the values they have instilled in me.
My family has been involved in philanthropy and service together since I can remember, and these activities have shaped much of my own philanthropic ideas and actions. There are certain causes I am passionate about because of my family’s involvement – namely my involvement with the Stephen Breen Memorial Foundation. Stephen Breen is my cousin, and he passed away at the age of 15 from a rare form of bone cancer when I was 10. The foundation created in his memory is committed to offering financial aid to local children who seek the strength and values of a Catholic education and to those courageous children and their families whose lives are afflicted with cancer. This foundation has been an integral part of my family’s philanthropy both in terms of monetary donations and in volunteering our time to help run events such as the annual golf tournament, middle school basketball tournament, dinners, and other events.
Because of my family’s involvement together, I have become stronger in my own philanthropic values and have realized just how much my family has influenced me. I am especially passionate about aiding the cancer community, and this passion was only strengthened through my involvement in Camp Kesem throughout college. Camp Kesem is a camp for children whose parents have/had cancer. It truly helped shape who I am as a person and what my philanthropic goals are when I am older. I saw firsthand how difficult and intimidating it was to raise over $60,000 in one school year to fund camp, and how much of a difference large donations can make (in this situation, I am considering over $500 in a single gift to be a large donation). We received a $10,000 gift at a pivotal point in the semester when fundraising was getting difficult, and this gift made such a difference both in morale and in funding. When I have the funds when I am older, I hope to be able to make a large donation to a small organization because I know firsthand how impactful that gift can be.
Camp Kesem is a camp for children whose parents have/had cancer. It truly helped shape who I am as a person and what my philanthropic goals are when I am older. I saw firsthand how difficult and intimidating it was to raise over $60,000 in one school year to fund camp, and how much of a difference large donations can make (in this situation, I am considering over $500 in a single gift to be a large donation). We received a $10,000 gift at a pivotal point in the semester when fundraising was getting difficult, and this gift made such a difference both in morale and in funding. When I have the funds when I am older, I hope to be able to make a large donation to a small organization because I know firsthand how impactful that gift can be.
Though this exercise in looking at our values at first seemed familiar, the extra step of connecting our values to issues we are passionate about caused me to stop and think about my personal passions. I realized just how integral my family has been in my philanthropic habits, and I plan to instill the same values in my children one day.
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.
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.
Each 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.