Students in the University’s Money and Social Change: Innovative Paradigms and Strategies course donated $10,000 to the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Gilead Community Services, the Connecticut Library Consortium, and the Community Foundation of Middlesex County.
Taught by founder and President of Criterion Ventures Joy Anderson ’89, and sponsored and founded by the Learning by Giving Foundation, this course asks students to think about the role of capital in social change. The class grants a total of $10,000 to a number of local nonprofits that they choose together.
“We’re a group of passionate and innovative problem-solvers that want to educate the next generation of philanthropists and distribute capital to local communities in need,” the foundation’s website reads.
The Connecticut Legal Rights Project advocates for the rights of adults with, or perceived as having, psychiatric disabilities. The Gilead Community Services provides housing, support services and clinical treatment to individuals with mental illness throughout Middlesex County. The Connecticut Library Consortium is a statewide membership collaborative serving all types of Connecticut libraries by helping them strengthen their ability to serve their users. The Community Foundation of Middlesex County is a group of individuals and businesses who pool resources to support the local community.
According to one of the ten students enrolled in the class this semester, Gabriella Montinola ’17, the process of picking four local nonprofits was a tricky one.
“We started with 200 or so [nonprofits] to choose from, which we cut down to four through a very tedious grant making process,” Montinola said. “We were often divided into groups of four and given a fourth of the nonprofits and told to cut [the number] down by a certain amount. It was usually about a third that we’d get rid of each time. There were many rounds [of this], and groups were jumbled each round.”
Before the list of nonprofits was finalized, there was a final five-hour day where the class had to narrow down the list. Montinola described it as an extensive process that included rounds of voting for favorite nonprofits and cutting least favorites.
“We had to choose our final one to four [nonprofits] based on a ‘story’ that tied them together,” Montinola said. “The story we came up with is ‘non-profits that celebrate effective structures that are fostering sustainable independence in communities by bridging systemic gaps.’ ”
Adrian Reifsnyder ’16, another student enrolled in the course, also found that the process of choosing nonprofits to donate to challenging.
“The process of choosing four nonprofits from a list of close to 200 is no easy task, especially when everyone on the list is generating some sort of positive social impact,” Reifsnyder said. “All of us had our own preconceived notions of what we believed was a more important cause as far as improving the overall community, so that made the process a little bit easier at the beginning when we were making our initial cuts. But, [it was] a lot more difficult towards the end when we had a diverse array of social areas we felt passionate about, [and] only $10,000 to give to a maximum of four nonprofits.”
With such a hands-on approach, students in this course get an experience that is applicable in the real world.
“I’m frustrated of simply learning about the problems in the world without theorizing any real and rational solutions,” Reifsnyder said. “This class took things to the next level and made us think ahead about how we can really create social change and gave us a taste of how to do so by strategically granting a relatively small amount of money so as to maximize the social impact it generates.”
The course also taught students about their weaknesses in the grant-giving process.
“One thing we acknowledged…is how ill-equipped we are as Wesleyan students, who were not allowed to get to know the nonprofits through any means other than e-mail,” Montinola said. “[This] became increasingly apparent as the number of finalists dwindled. We actually ended up giving money to the Middlesex Community Foundation because they basically do what we do—grant making—but probably know much more [about it] because they know and are attuned to the actual needs of the Middlesex environment much more than we do. We told them our ‘story’ and asked them to give to a nonprofit they think fits. So we’re excited to see how that plays out.”
That being said, Reifsnyder is still happy with the four nonprofits the class chose to donate to.
“[I am] very happy with our final decisions,” Reifsnyder said. “I think they exemplify what we came up with for our final story and am excited by the possibility of our philanthropy causing future collaboration between these four nonprofits, thereby creating an exponential amount of social impact that $10,000 could have never done alone.”