Philanthropy 101: Class helps students learn to give back

Atlanta INtown

In late 1998, Tom Glenn, president of the Hilda and Wilbur Glenn Family Foundation, approached the headmaster of The Westminster Schools with an idea for integrating philanthropic giving with high school education. The result was a unique type of service learning class.

Glenn, a graduate of Westminster, and President Bill Clarkson turned to economics teacher Sally Finch and community service coordinator Stan Moor to create this new course. Centering the class around how to be an effective donor and understand the non-profit world, Finch and Moor created the syllabus for Philanthropy 101.

Because of the success of the class, Glenn founded The Hilda and Wilbur Glenn Institute for Philanthropy and Service at Westminster. The class also started the annual Alternative Gift Fair that has raised thousands of dollars for local non-profits. This past summer I had the opportunity to be a part of the 12th Philanthropy 101 Class.

I applied for the month-long summer class the spring of my junior year because of a then mild interest in philanthropy from my own service experience. I walked into class the first day a little unsure of why I had decided to take a summer class that earned me no curricular credit.

We began with a discussion of what philanthropy meant, something I felt was simple enough. That discussion was the first of many experiences I had that broadened my view of what I had considered a limited subject. We delved into definitions of philanthropy that encompassed more than just giving money, ones that included actions as simple as giving time volunteering or as complex as lobbying for public policy change. Then, looking at our schedule for the upcoming weeks, it was impossible not to feel excitement. Ahead of us, we had trips planned to the Woodruff Foundation, the Community Foundation and other significant Atlanta non-profits.

As the class progressed, we heard from speakers like Benjamin White, an Atlanta expert on the laws governing non-profit foundations, and Joe Iarocci, CARE’s former chief of staff. We learned about the history of philanthropy and studied motives for giving, talked about types of beneficiaries, and examined different forms of giving.

After many worthwhile experiences, the class ended with one last assignment. We each received $500 to give to a non-profit of our choice. In a touching ceremony, we presented our checks to representatives from the non-profits, explaining what personal concern and interest led us to give to that particular cause.

Our donations served as a tangible, visible result of our learning that month, but the real culmination of the class was in our changed attitudes toward philanthropy and non-profit work. Through the class they became real and important parts of our lives, something we will be able to take with us to college and beyond.

by Peter Bryant