For the last four years, students enrolled in the Nature of Giving class have done more than learn about philanthropy – they have practiced it, too.
The class, called “On Human Nature — Giving and Philanthropy” and taught in the John V. Roach Honors College, receives grant money for charitable causes from The Philanthropy Lab. Students are expected to evaluate nonprofit organizations and distribute the cash accordingly.
This semester, students are expected to distribute $50,000. Past donations have totaled up to $100,000.
“It was crazy,” said Courtney Poey, a senior film-television-digital media major who took the class last spring. “I think a lot of us had a hard time comprehending that you get to give that much money away.”
Students generally donate to nonprofit organizations organized into six categories – Women Issues/Empowerment, Hunger & Homelessness, Children & Youth, Human Services & Civil Rights, Neighborhood & Community and Health & Wellness. The only stipulation is that the donations must be made to registered 5O1C3 organizations.
Dr. Ron Pitcock, who teaches the class, tells students to think about what they care about and to be vocal in their individual beliefs when deciding which nonprofit organizations to give to.
“Students play a large role in determining the process that will determine who receives funding,” Pitcock said. “The money belongs to the students, it belongs to the foundation that their class represents.”
Each foundation representation changes each year, and the representation is shown through the donation trends of the students.
The spring 2014 class received $60,000 from The Philanthropy Lab and donated equally within the six nonprofit organization categories — a decision based on the class’s social return on investment (SROI).
“Every class develops an SROI, and when you look at those, then you’re looking at students who are finding nonprofits and opportunities to give to, that speak to their desire to the social return that they want to see,” Pitcock said.
For example, while Nature of Giving students may have donated to the nonprofit organization Feed by Grace each year since 2012, the students’ SROI in 2013 paid more attention to Children and Youth.
The Philanthropy Lab partnered with TCU in 2011 as a pilot program. TCU’s class was the first class the foundation sponsored at any university.
“After we saw that [Dr. Pitcock’s] students were very moved by their experiences, we began to expand the program to other universities,” said Lauren Wolter, a representative for The Philanthropy Lab.
Since then, the class has been taught at universities such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the University of Texas at Austin.
“We’ve all had successes,” Pitcock said. “And we all have things that we’d like to do better in every course. The unique thing about a course like this is that you’re always learning and always having to change to reflect the trends in philanthropy.”
At these universities, Pitcock said, the course takes on the characteristics of the students and the professor that teaches it; so no course is exactly the same as the one taught at TCU.
However, The Philanthropy Lab chose these universities for a reason.
“We have aimed to partner with top universities,” Wolter said. “With the idea that, if these universities would take on the idea of philanthropy education, other universities would follow suit.”
The Nature of Giving class impacts students in various ways. Some even end up changing their career plans after taking the class.
“I have at least eight students who now serve on the boards of nonprofits,” Pitcock said. “I have a number of students who work for nonprofits or in nonprofit settings.”
Poey, who originally wanted to be an executive for a major television network, has switched her sights to being involved in fundraising and donor relations for nonprofit organizations. Last summer, she devoted her time to REAL School Gardens as an Education Support intern.
“Pretty much all because of this class,” Poey said about her change in career plans. “Which is pretty cool that a class is able to do that for me.”