Nonprofit Newswire | Mastering the Business of Philanthropy

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July 18, 2010; Source: Financial Times | For some time now, wealthy people have had ample chances to take courses, enroll in seminars, or attend retreats on how to learn how to be effective philanthropists. But now a growing number of business schools are adding courses focused on the art and science of giving for MBA students.

According to the Financial Times, the “curricula vary from school to school, but most courses involve lectures and readings on the history of philanthropy, issues in the grant-making process and issues in philanthropy and public policy.” There’s no predicting if the students in these classes are destined to make lots of money and give it way, but what they learn can teach them about how to better appreciate the process of giving. That knowledge can be helpful to those who pursue careers after business school in fund-raising, nonprofit management, or at companies that have corporate responsibility programs.

Elenore Garton, a senior researcher at the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University, teaches a course on the practice of philanthropy that she says introduces students to what it takes “to do philanthropy well.” Says Garton, “You have to understand social problems and what is at the root of them, you have to be able to take in a lot of information and evaluate what an organization is doing and you have to make hard choices. Donors have a lot of challenges and I want students to understand their perspective.”

Beth Bryant, an MBA student at Brandeis, who has nonprofit management experience, says the course has broadened her perspective and enabled her to better understand the questions donors face when deciding where or how to give. She says most people who work for nonprofits think more about their organizations and what they need, rather than what motivates donors to give. “You don’t stop and think about the philanthropist’s point of view. They have to say ‘no’ a lot more often than they say ‘yes’. And there are hard choices: do you give to a start-up, or to a group with a proven track record of results?”—Bruce Trachtenberg