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Unique course teaches students how to give well



Members of the Fall 2016 Strategic Philanthropy course present checks to local nonprofit organizations.
Members of the Fall 2016 Strategic Philanthropy course presented checks totaling $50,000 to seven local nonprofits. Two of the students went on to a national conference where they obtained an additional $25,000 for Abilene's Presbyterian Medical Care Mission.

Photo by Paul White

An Abilene nonprofit organization was awarded $25,000 from a national group thanks to two students from ACU’s Strategic Philanthropy course who brought skills they learned to the 2017 Philanthropy Lab Ambassadors Conference in Dallas.

Anna Casey, a marketing major from Willow Park, Texas, and Rees Heizelman, a management major from Abilene, joined 34 students from 17 universities across the nation to present grant proposals at the conference.

“One of our class donors has said he hopes students will begin to think as much about how they will give their money away as they do about how they will make it.” – Jim Orr., J.D., who teaches Strategic Philanthropy at ACU

The Ambassadors Conference was open to students who participated in a course affiliated with The Philanthropy Lab during the 2016-17 school year. Each university partner was allowed to send two student ambassadors. Anna and Rees were both in the Fall 2016 course at ACU.

Abilene Christian was the smallest university represented at the conference, said Rees. Other schools included Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas A&M, University of Texas, Rice and Vanderbilt.

Anna Casey
Anna Casey

The ambassadors – each with unique viewpoints, experiences and educational backgrounds – presented their proposals attempting to persuade fellow attendees that their nonprofit deserved part of the $150,000 in available funds.

Abilene’s Presbyterian Medical Care Missionwhich provides access to affordable medical and dental care to low-income and uninsured adults, was one of only six nonprofits selected to receive a $25,000 grant.

The ACU duo had to answer a lot of questions about whether the organization imposed faith on their recipients, Anna said.

“We had to overcome the fact that it had Presbyterian in the name and was faith-based,” she said. “In the end, it seemed really cool because a lot of people in the group did not have the same faith background, but we got to talk about it openly. And the bigger picture was about the good the organization was doing.”

Rees Heizelman
Rees Heizelman

Rees agreed. “It was an interesting opportunity, because here we are as Christians and we had the opportunity to actually let people know this is what the Christian religion entails – to explain what a medical care mission does.”

“Anna and Rees did an amazing job advocating for the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission,” said Jim Orr, J.D., vice president for advancement, who teaches Strategic Philanthropy at ACU. “They showed the tremendous depth of their understanding of the impact philanthropy can have upon the lives of others and God’s design for giving in this world.”

Strategic Philanthropy was first offered as an Honors colloquium in 2015, a one-hour course designed by Dr. Jim Litton, director of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy and inspired by former COBA dean Dr. Jack Griggs and an alumnus who offered an anonymous donation for students to distribute to local charities. In year two, ACU partnered with The Philanthropy Lab and expanded the offering into a three-hour, full-semester course. Now in its third year, Strategic Philanthropy involves both theory and practice, said Orr.

Jim Orr, J.D., vice president for advancement
Jim Orr, J.D.

“First, the class learns about the role which philanthropy plays in our world and the Lord’s designs for the stewardship of resources,” he said. “Then the students are given a set amount of money to give away in the Abilene community.”

Working with the Community Foundation of Abilene, the students receive grant applications from area non-profits, conduct site visits to learn more about the work of the nonprofits, and then make decisions about which grants to fund.

The students then plan and conduct a giving ceremony to make the awards and celebrate the impact upon the community and the people that are served.

“Finally, each student is asked to reflect upon these experiences and to create his or her own giving or philanthropic plan for their life and how they want to impact the world through giving,” Orr said.

Last year’s recipients were:

This fall, the class has 20 students who are in the process of evaluating nonprofits to be presented funds in December.

“We hope this course expands the horizons of our students into the landscape of giving to see the impact they can have in this world,” Orr said. “One of our class donors has said he hopes students will begin to think as much about how they will give their money away as they do about how they will make it.”