In 2017, more than $410 billion was donated to charities, the most ever, and 70% of those donations were made by individuals. But how many of those individuals were educated about effective philanthropic giving? Thanks to the Learning by Giving Foundation, we may soon see a new generation of educated philanthropists making responsible and sustainable decisions to impact their communities.
Doris Buffett (yes, THAT Buffett family) founded the Learning by Giving Foundation in 2003 to continue her legacy of philanthropy by educating and inspiring the next generation of philanthropists. Since then, the foundation has awarded $2,961,537 grant dollars to 724 grantees and taught 166 philanthropy courses to 4,862 students.
Students that enroll in a Learning by Giving course are given $10,000 to collectively donate by the end of the semester to a local community organization. “One of the really unique things about the Learning by Giving Foundation model is that all of the work is done entirely by students,” says Executive Director Amy Kingman. From community mapping to discussing the important issues facing their community to identifying the organization that can make the most impact, the students do it all.
Kingman found out about the Learning by Giving Foundation when she worked with the nonprofit Strong Women Strong Girls in Boston. “I was really impressed with the Learning by Giving Foundation process,” she recalls. “In this class, each student worked with and pitched an organization to their colleagues, their fellow students.” The organizations were invited to sit in the back and watch the pitches, but they could not participate.
“So here we have 19-year-old women asking their peers about the sustainability of an organization, the finances, structure of their board, level of community involvement and more,” recounts Kingman. “It was an amazing opportunity to see true empowerment and for these girls to learn what responsibility looked like.”
Today, in her role as Learning by Giving Foundation’s Executive Director, Kingman ensures people are aware of the foundation and the work they do. She also works to create and further opportunities for more students to access Learning by Giving programming. Their primary model is for undergraduate schools.
“We have everything from Ivy League to community colleges to state schools in our network,” explains Kingman. “This shows that philanthropy doesn’t belong to one group or another- philanthropy is the idea of investing in social change for everyone. Everyone’s voice is equally valuable there.”
The foundation is seeking to further diversify their student population in parts of the country where they lack much of a presence as well as working to bring more income diverse students into their programming. “We want people to see themselves as philanthropists and ensure the voices at the table in these discussions are increasingly diverse,” says Kingman.
Creating Sustainable Partnerships and Opportunities in the Sports World
The foundation has started to add some unique sports partnerships – including ones with the Red Sox Foundation and the San Francisco 49ers Foundation’s STEM Leadership Institute. It’s all part of their plan to bring more diverse groups of people together to learn about philanthropy. “When you think about sport, and a place like Fenway Park or Levi Stadium, those are symbols of a community. It’s a really beautiful and symbolic place to bring people together to have these conversations about what effective giving can look like,” explains Kingman.
Learning by Giving Foundation partnered with the 49ers Foundation and Silicon Valley Education Fund’s STEM Leadership Institute to create the first ever high school course in philanthropy. The foundation sees public school districts all over the country as an opportunity to improve the diversity of their student participants and to reach a large amount of young people. When deciding on this specific partner, Kingman says, “We wanted to look at an after-school organization that had a rigorous model that we could see young people regularly attending and actively taking part in.”
They currently have 60 Santa Clara High School juniors participating in the class which will wrap up next fall. Both the 49ers Foundation and Learning by Giving have donated $20,000 collectively for the students to give back to the Bay Area community.
Learning by Giving Foundation has aspirations of continuing their work within the sports sector. They hosted Philanthropy on the Field at Fenway Park where more than 180 emerging leaders ages 23-35 came out for a modified Learning by Giving experience. The leaders learned how to effectively evaluate nonprofits and heard from local leaders, people in sports and other philanthropists.
The group met with the 20 local nonprofits in attendance and then decided together where to grant the over $100,000 of funds available. Kingman adds, “If anyone is interested in using their stadium during the offseason for something like this, it’s a program we’d love to do with sports franchises around the country.”
Kingman also mentioned the unique opportunities that Learning by Giving programs present to athletes. Athletes are philanthropists, who give their money out generously to causes that matter to them or through their own foundations. “They don’t necessarily have strategic direction for their giving and they certainly don’t have the time to do all the vetting,” argues Kingman. She highlighted the benefits athletes could receive by working with Learning by Giving Foundation students on their charitable giving for a bit of “pro bono” consulting.
The Learning by Giving team is all-in on sports partnerships and engagement. Says Kingman, “We believe that sports, the stadiums themselves, and just that camaraderie that sport encourages, is a wonderful symbol to jump off from and use that symbol to help catalyze people from that community to do more together.”
Measuring Success and Long Term Growth
When it comes to measuring success for the foundation, Kingman explains that they are primarily looking for achievements in mindset and behavior. In the pre and post studies they give their students, the foundation asks them to answer yes/no to questions like “I am aware of the needs and issues facing my community”, “I know how to evaluate a nonprofit’s effectiveness”, “I believe I can make a difference in my community” and more.
A lot of young people think that because they don’t have money, they can’t be a philanthropist or make an impact in the community. “Doris Buffett’s passion was always for people to see the many tools they had in their toolbelt: money is the easiest one,” counters Kingman. “Time, talent, grit, reflective listening, and real collaborative partnerships are very real tools that can help effect change in the community that every single young person has,” she continues.
Doris Buffett and her investment in Learning by Giving Foundation also presents a unique challenge for Kingman and her team. While Buffett gave a wonderfully generous donation of seed money to establish the foundation, it covers overhead and business costs, not their growth. “People equate the Buffets with unlimited resources,” she explains. They don’t necessarily realize that the foundation needs additional funds to continue long term growth to new schools and to maintain programming at schools they are in currently.
All that being said, donors will be glad to know that their contribution goes directly to their classes and therefore back out to the community. “The foundation is going to use that money to teach and inspire a new generation of philanthropy and community leaders,” adds Kingman.
The Learning by Giving Foundation understands that the opportunity to grow and educate the next generation of philanthropists is huge. “We teach civics in school and we have made understanding the government process a part of the educational system,” Kingman explains. “Yet, billions of dollars are given out every year – over 70% of that is given out by individuals – and there is no formal education on how to do that effectively.” She hopes one day that every young person will have their own Learning by Giving experience and story to share.
And, most importantly, Kingman hopes that “everybody will be donating their own time and talents to organizations that they care about, and they’ll be doing it in a thoughtful and collaborative way.”
Interested in getting involved with the Learning by Giving Foundation? Reach out to Kingman and the Learning by Giving Foundation and they’ll help make you a part of it. Whether you are interested in donating funds, time or making connections for the foundation to reach new students, you can help educate the next generation of philanthropists.
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