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Graduate students experience philanthropy firsthand

May 04, 2007

If it is better to give than to receive, students in the new ASU course “Theory and Practice of Philanthropy” are experiencing that satisfaction firsthand through a unique, hands-on project that allows them to award $10,000 to a Phoenix area nonprofit.

Roger Hughes, executive director of St. Luke's Health Initiatives (SLHI), is teaching the inaugural course in ASU's new graduate nonprofit studies degree program. Hughes was the creative force behind the project, which required student teams not only to research and visit SLHI's Health in a New Key grant applicants, but also to prepare cases for support and to choose the grant recipient.

The class selected Girls on the Run of Maricopa County, a nonprofit that works to improve the physical and social development of young girls through an innovative running program in schools. The students said the project taught them to apply theories of effectiveness, accountability and legitimacy to their collective decision on which organization would receive the community health grant.

Chantal Carr of Gilbert, Ariz., a student in the new master's program, has written grants and taken workshops to perfect those skills but was excited to learn how to be a funder.

“When Dr. Hughes announced this practicum project to the class, I thought how sweet it would be to be on the other side of the coin and be the one giving the money instead of begging for the money,” Carr says. “Some of that sentiment remains, now that I've been through the process, but I was surprised at the complexity of issues that have to be addressed.

“There are stringent standards for professionalism in grant-making organizations, and demands among those funded for outcomes, results and accountability. What I found to be the most fascinating is the nexus of that professionalism with the passion, flexibility and innovation in the independent sector. The humanistic quality of serving people has to be balanced with matrices that are not always perfect indicators of the outcomes that change people's lives for the better.”

“SLHI's Health in a New Key initiative has a stake in introducing nonprofit leaders to the principles and practices of resilience and strength-based community development,” Hughes says. “We thought this core course in the theory and practice of philanthropy would be a good place to provide students with a practical experience. It exposes them to both the grant-seeking and grant making sides of the equation. I hope that they learned that deciding between competing proposals and awarding grants that make a positive difference in organizations and communities are not as easy or straightforward as they might appear to be.”

Adds Lori Hidinger of Tempe , a student in the course and a project manager for the ASU Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes: “I learned how difficult it is to choose among really qualified organizations that all offer passionate presentations of their needs. The contacts I have made in class and with area nonprofits are also invaluable.”

“Our new graduate degree places a premium on assuring real world application that puts theory into practice,” says Robert Ashcraft, director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Management and associate professor in the School of Community Resources and Development. “It is exciting that our students are learning not just how to acquire resources for nonprofits but also how to prudently invest on behalf of the communities they may serve as leaders and funders.”

The bachelor's and master's degrees in nonprofit studies were launched this year in response to the growing demand for nonprofit leaders. The school has awarded national certificates to more than 250 students in its top-ranked American Humanics program since it was founded in 1980. The School's Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Management also provides professional development through its Nonprofit Management Institute.