Pamela Paxton

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.”

Sociology and public affairs professor Pamela Paxton’s “Philanthropy: The Power of Giving” UGS class is donating $100,000 between five charities as part of their last project for the spring semester. The charities include organizations in the U.S. and international associations in Cambodia, Ethiopia and Guatemala.

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

Students distributed $100,000 among five charities Monday to mark the end of their semester in the UGS class “Philanthropy: The Power of Giving.”

In its third semester, the course allows 41 students to research nonprofit organizations and give away the money after in-class debates and discussions.

Sustainable Harvest, which teaches families of rural villages in Central America how to use sustainable farming techniques, will receive $10,000, Caring For Cambodia will receive $20,000, and $30,000 will go toward building two wells in Ethiopia through the nonprofit organization Charity Water. KIPP Austin, an Austin-based nonprofit that sends underserved students to charter schools, will receive $20,000, and another $20,000 will go to Common Hope, a charity that works to send kids to secondary school in Guatemala.

Each spring semester, $50,000 is given by a foundation outside the University called the Philanthropy Lab to the course’s donation fund, and the rest of the money is raised by the course instructor, Pamela Paxton. Paxton said none of the money that is raised comes from the University.

Paxton, who taught the class for the first time last spring, sees the course as a way for students to evaluate the relative effectiveness of various charities.

“I think it’s different from an undergraduate course in a sense that the students feel how important the learning in the class is because they go ahead and use it immediately,” Paxton said.

The course requires an application process to get in, but Paxton said there is hardly a waitlist because the class is relatively new.

Undeclared sophomore Nathalia Rojas, who began the semester researching Sustainable Harvest International, said she was excited her charity was selected to receive the money.

Rojas said she wanted the nonprofit to receive the money because it would make a direct impact for a community of people in Honduras.

“You really get invested in your charity and realize how much of an impact you can make on the people’s lives,” Rojas said. “The fact that you have the money and the opportunity to do that — you want to do what you can.”

Although some students’ charities end up being selected to receive the money, many do not receive the support of the whole class.

Mathematics and actuarial studies sophomore Austin Nguyen researched a charity called Autism Trust, which did not end up being selected to receive the money.

“It hurts because you spend all your time researching, and you want money donated to it, but, on the other hand, you’re still donating to five other great charities,” Nguyen said. 

According to Nguyen, the final charities were selected after intense in-class debates. He said the most interesting part of the course was realizing it’s not always best to just give your money away without examining the foundation.

The ceremony in which the donations are presented will be held Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Tower.