Undergraduate studies class donates to six nonprofits

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Rather than learn how to make money, students in sociology professor Pamela Paxton’s undergraduate studies class learned how to give theirs away.

Paxton’s class, called “Philanthropy: The Power of Giving,” allowed students to carefully research, vet and debate different nonprofit organizations to donate toward, with six finalists eventually being chosen. On Friday, the class presented these finalists with donations from their $85,000 budget, courtesy of Fort Worth-based organization The Philanthropy Lab.

“We have a lot of classes on how to make money at this University and hardly any to on how to give it away,” Paxton said. “Not only will [this class] help [students’] own giving in the future, but they will be a resource to their friends and family, and I think it invigorates their own desire to give.”

The six finalist chosen by the class include Mercy Ships, a global charity that operates hospital ships providing medical care for underdeveloped countries; Project C.U.R.E., a nonprofit organization that is the largest provider of medical and relief supplies for developing nations; Charity: Water, an organization dedicated to creating water wells for underserved regions; Pencils for Promise, a for-purpose organization that builds schools and trains teachers in areas with little educational access; the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which furthers research and treatment for those living with multiple sclerosis; and Any Baby Can, an Austin-based organization that serves pregnant women and children in poverty throughout Central Texas.

Courtney Horm, major gifts manager for Any Baby Can, said the contribution would allow them to expand their efforts across the city.

“We serve over 8,000 kids a year,” Horm said. “And it means so much that we are able to expand our capacity and reach more of the kids.”

Horm said the concept behind the class impressed her.

“I’m blown away at the work they put into it, and the process of this class to put the kernel of philanthropy in their mind at a young age,” Horm said. “I thought it was an awesome experience.”

The Philanthropy Lab, which is behind the class, started seeding philanthropy classes at 10 universities around the nation in 2011, including Harvard, Yale and UT. The organization donates a set budget for each class and mandates students decide how to give the money away in the most effective manner. This requires students to carefully evaluate charities and debate among themselves to determine the six organizations best suited to receive funding.

Undeclared freshman Maya Lenox said the class has taught her to be careful with her donations.

“If you don’t know some of the background things about the organization you could end up giving to something you don’t really agree with,” Lenox said. “Or they could be claiming to donate to a cause when in actuality they’re donating to themselves.”

Paxton said the class has been successful since she began teaching it three years ago.

“It’s been a huge success every year,” Paxton said. “A lot of the students describe it as a life-changing class.”