With the grant decision finalized and the grant ceremony coming up, it is now time to reflect on the semester and what we have all learned and accomplished. Our class started as complete rookies to the idea of philanthropy; our first few days consisted of answering the question of what is philanthropy and discussing the principles behind it. As the semester went on, we then sought to answer what makes certain philanthropic practices good or bad, what values we should have, and who is the greatest philanthropist. Once we learned the gist of philanthropy, we brainstormed and advocated different causes to which we could use the grant for, ranging from immigration to child poverty, eventually choosing the latter. Soon enough came the time to debate about the grant selection criteria, discuss how we would make decisions, and argue for or against the cutting of certain applicants. The entire process was quite a struggle, especially since there were a lot of close calls in the decision making and since a lot of the organizations had such valuable assets. I specifically remember one time we had a hard time cutting one organization due to some arguing that it didn’t fit the selection criteria and others arguing that it did. Personally, I thought it all boiled down to whether we viewed the selection criteria as a way to direct money to a specific purpose versus whether we viewed the selection criteria as merely a guide that we set ourselves, not a cookie cutter. Ultimately, making the decisions was one of the hardest parts of this course and certainly an experience we learned a great deal from. Along with the class readings and site visits, it gave us a new way of looking at philanthropy. At the end of the day, the process ends on us congratulating Bright Beginnings as the grant’s final winner and using what we have learned to carry us through our own careers and lives. Hopefully, some day, we will be able to use our experience and reflections from this course to guide our philanthropic decisions later on down the line.
This week we discussed the remaining two organizations following Thursday’s class and successfully select Bright Beginnings as our final grantee. The class was largely in favor of Bright Beginnings, voting 24-6 in favor of them. After a relatively short discussion compared to most, the class was effectively able to compare the positives and negatives of both organizations. Bright Beginnings provided us with a clear area that our money would be funded which a lot of people like because it showed they had thought out a plan and have a goal to expand as well as a much easier program to track the success of. I believe the group that Bright Beginnings focused on also had a large impact on the final selection. This is because the homeless population, especially in D.C, is in the most immediate need and the nurse that we supply with our grant would effectively help 64 homeless children. Both organizations were wonderful and it felt like most of the class would be proud of our selection either way because each organization met our selection criteria, performed well on the site visits, and have proven to be a great organization. I believe this resulted in the class deciding maybe more so from the heart instead of the head which as we discussed earlier in the class through our readings, is difficult not to resort to. At the conclusion of our class I feel like we have really accomplished something and were able to work well as a group to finally decide on a well deserving organization to donate our $10,000.
I’m honored to say that our class finally chose an organization to grant our $10,000 to! We have chosen Bright Beginnings as our grant recipient, and I am thrilled that our class was able to confidently and effectively move through the entire decision process. Throughout the discussion, there was a lot of comparison between the two final organizations, and the populations they impacted. Many people advocated for BB since they help the most vulnerable population, the homeless. They also stated how they would match our grant, in order to ensure the establishment of the nurse and nutritionist. Additionally, many people in our class were not fond of the grant going to our runner-up, as they noted that the grant would go towards operating costs. This was debated upon for an extended period of time, and it was referenced that the runner-up made a note to inform us that their operating costs for their staff is their program. Individuals defended the runner-up by explaining that their program development fees help their staff to help the children. On the contrary, a large portion of our class felt more comfortable with knowing exactly where the $10,000 would end up. As a class, we will have an easier time tracking the success of our grant with BB since it will not be going towards operating costs, but towards a nurse and nutritionist. That is not to say that operating costs are not important, it is more to say that for our class, we will have an easier time tracking our impact with a nurse and nutritionist. Another important comment from the discussion was how we should not knock BB for the outward appearance of the organization. I agree that if one of the reasons we cut another finalist was because of the prestigious appearance, we could not cut BB because their appearance was nowhere near as state of the art. At the end of the class, we were lucky enough to inform a representative of BB that we would be offering them our grant, and she was ecstatic. Overall, I feel as though our class expended a great deal of energy into this decision, and I am honored to have been a part of all the discussions. I feel as though our class made a great choice, and that BB will prosper greatly from our grant. Our voting process, cordial debates, and constant consideration of the impact we would have are some of the areas our class excelled in. It’s been an incredible semester, and I am elated that we made this decision.
Yesterday, I finished my final recommendation for where the class should put it’s $10,000. In many ways, it was exciting to have been done with it, but it was also a profoundly uncomfortable experience. I came into the process expecting to recommend one specific organization, which I believed from the call and site visit to have the strongest educational program of the five charities we are still considering. They had the best metrics, the nicest facilities, and gave the most convincing arguments. But then, as statisticians are wont to do, I ran the final numbers. Our $10,000 would pay for just under the education of one child at Organization #1. I would be absolutely confident that we are making a difference in the life of that child. But for the same money, a second organization could help 10 families. Admittedly, Organization #2 did not have data as convincing, and there were a few ways Organization #1’s curriculum felt stronger. I felt like I was back in my intro to philosophy class, Derek Parfit essentially asking me in his writings “Is it better to have fewer people with great lives, or more people with good but not great lives”. These kinds of questions are ugly. They don’t usually have clean answers, and you feel like you’re betraying someone either way. In the end, I had to recommend Organization #2. I was unwilling to say that educating one family at Organization #2 was 10 times as good as educating another family at Organization #2. Without having considered the hard, uncomfortable, difficult questions my brain tried its best to ignore, I would have ended up making a decision I now see to be the wrong one. Nobody ever said doing good was going to be easy, so we’re faced with hard decisions, it is only right that we should ask ourselves the hard questions.
Our journey in The Art and Science of Philanthropy is rapidly approaching the apex of our class’ pyramid. We started at the wide base of the pyramid with a group of students merely defining philanthropy. As the pyramid climb began, we started vastly expanding our knowledge, but slowly condensing the focus. From a broad definition of philanthropy, we learned how it applies to the real world and what it has historically had the power to do. We continued focusing on specific philanthropic people and organizations through analysis of their successes, areas of improvement, and noting their unique approaches to philanthropy. Then, possible areas of philanthropy were brainstormed and further condensed until our class decided that early-childhood education would be the targeted audience of our grant money. We then built a key layer to our class pyramid; we decided the desired criteria of our grantee. This provided the framework for organizations to apply for our grant and give us a focus to narrow down the applications. And now, here we are. We have one layer left in our pyramid. This penultimate layer is the selection of one of the five remaining organizations to cap off our pyramid. A decision must be made, and I’m sure everyone wants it to be the best decision possible. We don’t want to take the top off of our beautiful, gold pyramid, look inside, and realize it was only gold-plated. So now that we are reaching the tip, I hope everyone can look deeper into each organization and avoid distraction from the shiny facades. Philanthropy is an art and, like any art form, comes in a variety styles and is made with a variety of mediums. So when all is said and done, I hope the pyramid we’ve worked so hard to construct is built of solid gold.
As we come closer to imminent deadline for selecting recipient(s) of the grant money, we will soon be forced to make the difficult decision of eliminating some of our finalists. Tomorrow we will be conducting our last site visit, after which each student will need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each organization against one another. After visiting each site and seeing firsthand how our donation will help those smiling young faces achieve a better future and live a higher quality of life, the decision becomes infinitely more challenging as saying no to an organization also means saying no to a child’s chance at a better future. More eloquently put, in the words of Dr. Loretta Scott, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” So, we must attempt to eliminate our biases and emotional attachments that we have developed over the course of the semester and make a decision that will ultimately generate the most profound impact. While how “profound” of an impact our donation will make is often difficult to quantify, by individually analyzing the qualifications and needs of each organization and engaging in a discussion sharing our views and rationale, hopefully we will collectively make the right choice.
As we move towards the end stage of the semester our class finds itself moving towards what will perhaps be the most influencing stage of our grant making process, the site visits. Up until now, the grant review process has been driven by a logical analysis of the applications. We’ve analyzed how each organization meets the criteria we decided to value, reviewed the financial statements of each organization, and even debated the longevity or value of each organization’s specific use of our grant money. Every part of our debate thus far has been about quantifying the worth of each organization based on the ideals that we believe to be the most necessary for success. In a sense we’ve been focused on the head in the ongoing debate of the head vs heart, but it seems as though the site visits have the potential to change this pattern. Seeing the day to day operations of an organization, the smiling faces of the children they educate, and the families who are aided by these organizations is sure to tug at the heart strings of each person that goes on a site visit. This brings up a question however, when making our final decision for the class funds, should we focus more on the quantifiable aspects of an organizations impact or is it appropriate to allow our personal views and emotional connection to an organization influence our decision? Personally, I believe that this decision requires a melding of both aspects, emotional and logical. As a class we have a responsibility to utilize the funds in an effective way that will address our chosen issue as best as possible. Achieving this is what makes the use of statistics and the formation of criteria so important. Therefore, we have a responsibility to logically assess the capability of these organizations. That being said however, no statistics or charts can replace seeing the smiling faces of the children. When making a decision about gifting money to an early childhood education center, there’s an inherent emotional and interpersonal aspect that can’t be quantified, and therefore we must allow our personal views of an organization that we develop on site visits to somewhat influence our decisions. This is sure to make the final grant decision somewhat contentious simply because each student will have different perspectives and experiences of each site visit. However, in the long run the perspectives developed on these visits, by putting a face to the name, will be the driving force in our debates. Overall, the final grant decision will be one made with both the head and the heart, and in the coming weeks I expect the heart of each student will be influenced dramatically.