College students learn how to optimize resources in philanthropy course

When a dozen students enrolled last spring in a UChicago College class on philanthropy began talking about how they would spend $50,000, it quickly became clear to them that disadvantaged people in Chicago were in need of some help.

“The students thought that dealing with inequality in Chicago was a persistent problem that needed to be addressed,” said Elisabeth Clemens, the William Rainey Harper Professor of Sociology and the College and Chair of Sociology, who taught the new class for the first time.

The course “Philanthropy: Private Acts and Public Goods” is one of a number of similar classes offered at universities around the country. The Once Upon a Time Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, gave $50,000 to support a project as part of courses designed to help students better understand the role of giving in society while promoting interest in philanthropy.

Pat Dunne, President of the Once Upon a Time Foundation, said, “We think it is important for future leaders to learn to give back and to participate in the process. Giving is a very personal thing. This class helps them learn how to deal with infinite needs and finite resources. It is the purpose of philanthropy to learn how to optimize those resources.”

The Chicago course looked at the social role of philanthropy, its historical development as a significant economic and political institution, and the place of philanthropy in contemporary public policy and civic projects.

The students reviewed the literature of philanthropy and the reasons why people give. They discussed a range of national issues before deciding that the $50,000 would be best spent locally. They then began to research possible recipients and decided on agencies that provide direct service to disadvantaged people as well as an agency involved in community organizing.

“Learning about why people give and what this means in terms of the rest of society changed my whole perspective on charity,” said first-year student Lauren Culbertson, who advocated for giving to the Umoja Student Development Corporation, which seeks to improve interpersonal relationships among students in Chicago Public Schools. The students decided to give the group $10,000.

Second-year student Jeanne Chauffour, who is director of campaigns for GlobeMed, a national nonprofit that partners with a grassroots organization in Peru, said, “This class was particularly interesting in opening up a dialogue about the nature of giving that I had never really questioned or discussed in that way before.

“The course ended up taking a turn that hit much closer to home as we each developed our theories of change, advocated for organizations we had previously known nothing about but which we were now rooting for, and finally we realized how to distribute the money allotted to our class to maximize income and efficacy in the different areas of the organizations we were targeting,” Chauffor said.

Chauffor encouraged the group to give to ChildServe, which works with youth with special health care needs and their families. The organization received $10,000 from the student philanthropists.

Sarah LeBarron, a second-year student, encouraged her classmates to give to the Development Communities Project, Inc., which does community organizing on the far South Side. President Obama once worked for the organization.

She said she was impressed by the group’s work to extend the CTA Red Line farther south than 95th Street. The group received $20,000 from the class.

“DCP understands that the problems they face are huge and require building community coalitions in order to allocate resources most effectively, and I wanted to give a portion of our funds to them so that they could increase their capacity, and continue to work on the multitude of projects that they have undertaken,” she said.

Youth Guidance, which runs the Becoming a Man program that has been evaluated as a successful intervention program by the University of Chicago Crime Lab also received $10,000.

The Once Upon a Time Foundation awarded grants to 13 universities to design courses on philanthropy however they chose.