Kyle Gammenthaler ’11 begins his Strategic Philanthropy class every semester by giving each student a $10 bill. He tells them they must use the money for good throughout the week, but what that means is up to them.
Some students choose to invest the money to watch it grow, while others donate it to their favorite organization or provide a friend with something to brighten their day. Gammenthaler says the reason behind the activity is to show students that they can have a big impact on a small scale.
That idea is paramount throughout the Strategic Philanthropy course, an innovative class in which students must decide how to grant money to local Bryan-College Station nonprofits.
Gammenthaler’s inspiration for the course is to encourage students to practice generosity at a young age, be more thoughtful with their finances and use their resources for good in the community. Since its inception, 115 students have enrolled in the class, 37 local nonprofit organizations have been supported, and exactly $500,000 has been given by donors for allocation.
STRATEGIC PHILANTHROPY AT MAYS
GETTING THE BALL ROLLING
When Gammenthaler initiated the idea for the course, he scoured the country to find organizations that support philanthropic education. In 2015, he found The Philanthropy Lab, a Fort Worth, Texas, organization committed to funding philanthropy-based courses. The Philanthropy Lab granted Gammenthaler his first $50,000 to use during the spring 2016 semester. Since then, the class has boomed with continued support from The Philanthropy Lab and private donations from generous individuals and organizations like Jennifer and Wil VanLoh, the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, Debbie ’76 and John Bethancourt ’74, and Cheryl Mellenthin.
Ultimately, Gammenthaler hopes the class prepares students to become more charitably-minded and consider how they can make an impact in their communities through personal generosity. “By informing students of the importance of supporting the community and those in need, I hope to help them recognize opportunities to be generous and how to act on them,” he said.
Each semester, an average of 18 students oversee deciding how to allocate $50,000 to $100,000 in grant money. Gammenthaler presents the class with various local organizations addressing different issues in the community, and each student visits two organizations to learn more about their needs. Once they have gathered the necessary information, students discuss why their selected organization should receive funding over others.
The class emphasizes clear communication, understanding and compromise. The topic of philanthropy is individualized, personal and far from black and white, so the course is heavily discussion-based to allow students to work through the challenges they face as they get closer to the people and the issues.
After arduous talks, students select the organizations that will receive money. During the spring 2019 semester, the class received $75,000 in donations to allocate to Big Brother Big Sister, On Ramp, Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, Health for All, Scotty’s House, Sexual Assault Research Center, United Way of the Brazos Valley and the VOOM Foundation—all local organizations. Strategic philanthropy on a local scale is an important factor to Gammenthaler. “I think it is important to engage and invest meaningfully in the place where students are spending time, money and effort,” he said. He advocates a ‘live here, give here’ mentality to the class to reiterate the importance of being active in the community.
Participants speak highly of their experience, saying they learned more about themselves and gained memorable life lessons. “Most of us went into the class thinking that philanthropy equated to large sums of money, but Kyle made it clear that it’s so much more than that,” said Amy Sharp ’19, an honors business administration major and former Texas A&M Student Body President. “Your time and your talent are equally valuable to give back to the world.”
To be enrolled in the class, students submit their resume and an application consisting of numerous open-ended essay questions. The application is centered on learning who the student is as a person and understanding their motivations and thought process. Gammenthaler said there aren’t right or wrong answers; he just wants to see that students are willing to think.
Open to all majors, ages and genders, the class averages 40 applications each semester. The course is ideal for those interested in a career in the nonprofit sector, because it provides perspectives from both the giving and receiving side of donations and gives students experience with thinking strategically. “I think if they leave with, ‘Yes, generosity is important,’ but also see that it can happen at any amount and that it can happen now, that’s a really positive byproduct,” Gammenthaler said.
To support the Strategic Philanthropy course at Mays Business School, please contact Brian Bishop ’91, assistant vice president for development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 862-3615.
BY MICHELE SCHEVIKHOVEN
July 12, 2019
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