Class on non-profits evolves
In the “Learning by Giving” class taught by Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology Thomas Morrione ’65, students must write then assess grants for local philanthropic organizations. Students research local charities and volunteer their time to work with them as grant writers, hoping to be given some of the $10,000 allocated to the class through the Learning by Giving Foundation.
The Learning by Giving Foundation was originally part of the Sunshine Lady Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Doris Buffet, sister to the philanthropist and entrepreneur Warren Buffet. However, in the summer of 2011, the Learning by Giving Foundation branched out with the support of the Sunshine Lady to form its own independent organization. As of now there are 26 different schools involved, including Georgetown, Tufts, Boston College and the University of Southern California.
The new program is continuously changing and addressing the complications that come with starting a new foundation. Students on the Hill were so invested in the course that they were adamant that their experience be used to help the Learning by Giving foundation grow. Professor Morrione said, “The students from last year’s course were insistent that I include some of their voices in the report that I write….The director, Louise Sawyer, asked if she could take the report…so that she could send it around to other people so that they could read about the issues the students and I raised.”
Many changes have occurred internally since the birth of the class, and Morrione said that there was a “steep learning curve.” He said that “at first the program did not know what worked, and what didn’t” but now it has corrected many of its initial flaws. Communication seems to be the key to success for Learning by Giving, as there is an online forum for professors to discuss the pitfalls and triumphs of each individual college’s program.
Morrione regularly talks with professors at different colleges to compare courses. They are not all run the same way, and most schools are not on both sides of the grant process. The College is one of five schools whose students both write the grants and form the committee to decide which grants will actually receive money. This process is extremely emotional for most students, as they put so much time into writing their grants and working with the charities.
Morrione finds that the ending of the program is the most valuable part of the course. At its conclusion, the students must all come together and reevaluate the criteria, an activity that the students take very seriously. He believes that through this process their capabilities are expanded and their confidence is increased by having to make such a tough decision.
However, schools are only allowed to participate in the Learning by Giving program for a maximum of three years. The College is now entering into its second year in the program, and Morrione is planning to re-apply for next year.
The program has been so influential at the College that Morrione would like to continue the course past the expiration of the partnership with the Learning by Giving Foundation. An article in the Colby Magazine entitled “Real Money, Real Matters,” by Laura Meader, generated a lot of alumni interest, leading many to contact Morrione about donating money to the College for the purpose of continuing the class. However, it remains unknown if support is established and if it would be able to sustain the continuation of the class.
Throughout the course of the semester, the students put in countless hours with these charities and become quite invested in each organization. At the end of the semester, all of the grant proposals are submitted and the students decide which organizations are given money from the grant. While discussing the course, Morrione said that this process “had a profound effect on a great number of students in that class, all of them in one way or another” and that students experience immeasurable amounts of personal growth.