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Freshman seminar donates $25,000 at end of course to charitable organizations

The fall 2013 freshman seminar FRS 157: Philanthropy donated $25,000 to five nonprofit charity organizations. The largest grant was $7,000 to ZOE International Ministries, followed by $5,000 to Partners in Health, $4,500 each to Pratham USA and Camfed USA, and $4,000 to The Water Project.

This experimental course, led by Wilson School professor Stanley Katz, has been offered by the University every fall since 2012. Over a semester, students learn the basic foundations and historical context of philanthropy, and eventually get the chance to make actual donations using funds provided to the class.

Last fall, the class donated $50,000 also to five different organizations. More than half of the donations were made to organizations focusing on education. One organization that received funding, Give Me a Shot, had been started by a student enrolled in the class.

Funding for the course was provided by The Philanthropy Lab, a nationwide project created by Texas-based philanthropic organization Once Upon a Time Foundation. Lauren Wolter, program director of The Philanthropy Lab, said that the purpose of the project is to provide students with practical experience in philanthropy and the opportunity to think consciously about giving back to society.

“Although many universities state that they want their students to be responsible citizens who give to society, they often don’t have specific courses in which students are challenged to think about what it means to give, and especially to give thoughtfully,” Wolter said. “We try to encourage universities to adopt and embed a philanthropy course into their curriculum, and if they do that, we will provide the lab component — the funding for students’ grant-making process.”

Thirteen academic institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford, currently provide practical philanthropy courses in partnership with this project.

Katz said that the course spends a large amount of time on how students can decide where to donate the money and how much to donate. This process includes extensive research and discussion both during class and on students’ own time, he added.

Katz explained that class discussions revolved around whose interests should be prioritized and why, which organizations to donate to within each interest group, whether to donate to long-term projects or short-term projects, and whether the students wanted to direct their money to specific projects or to leave the decision to experts in the field.

The class, Katz said, ultimately decided to split up its money among five organizations, with an individual focus on health, intervention of human trafficking, education and providing clean water to villages in Africa.

Eric Xu ’17 said that the course definitely increased his interest in philanthropy. Another student, Cody Phillips ’17, said that he could gain a well-rounded focus on philanthropy through the course, and also enjoyed meeting with the guest speakers who are working in the field.

“I think Professor Katz did a really good job in not only educating us but also bringing in outsiders who were in the philanthropic work,” Phillips said. “For example, a Princeton graduate who actually had his own foundation came in and talked to us.”

When asked about the future of the course, Wolter said the project will not provide funding to the University for future philanthropy courses because its goal is for the University to create self-sustaining programs, after having received funding for the last three years.

However, Katz said that the University is currently speaking with a possible donor who is interested in supporting the course for several more years.

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