The Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward, funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service—final report October 2011—is examining attitudes, knowledge, behavior and skills amongst college and graduate students enrolled in experiential philanthropy courses at fifty-three universities in Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky; instructor surveys supplement student surveys.

Sillerman Center Report Examines the Ways Student Philanthropy Courses Engage a New Generation of Philanthropists

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A new Sillerman Center report, Engaging a New Generation of Philanthropists: Findings from the Pay it Forward Student Philanthropy Initiative, examines students enrolled in student philanthropy courses through Pay it Forward. Pay it Forward, an initiative of the Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio Campus Compacts, seeks to develop a new generation of philanthropists by infusing the practice of philanthropy as a core component of college coursework. In partnership with Campus Compact, the Sillerman Center analyzed 1,628 surveys from students who participated in these courses from January 2010-August 2011.

This report asks three questions about Pay it Forward:

  • What are the prior philanthropic experiences of Pay it Forward participants?
  • What features of a Pay it Forward course predict student confidence in their philanthropic skills, abilities, and knowledge?
  • What aspects of a Pay it Forward course predict changes in students’ plans to donate money
 to, volunteer in, and otherwise support their communities?

Key findings from the report include:

Finding 1: College students enter the Pay it Forward courses with a variety of prior experiences in the nonprofit sector, but many students have not been previously exposed to philanthropy. While many students enrolled in the Pay it Forward  courses had prior experiences with giving and volunteering, not all have engaged in philanthropy early on in life. About half of survey respondents had never discussed their parents/guardians’ volunteer or philanthropic work with them.

Finding 2: While the goals of Pay it Forward are consistent across courses, the types of activities offered, students’ investment of time, and students’ level of engagement varied. Most respondents had direct contact with nonprofits, did research into issue areas, and developed selection criteria for grants, but varied in terms of overall course engagement. Although most students in the courses spent less than half of their of their course time on the philanthropy component of the course, the majority of students made at least one visit to a nonprofit they were considering for a grant award.

Finding 3: Student respondents’ level of engagement, investment of time, and participation in hands-on activities during the course are significant predictors of confidence in their philanthropic skills, abilities, and knowledge. When controlling for prior philanthropic experiences, our analyses suggest that specific course components and activities – most significantly, their level of engagement in the course, investment of time,
and participation in hands-on activities – do
make a difference in students’ confidence in their philanthropic skills, abilities, and knowledge.

Finding 4: Overall course engagement, rather than specific course activities, predicts changes in student respondents’ plans to donate money to, volunteer in, and otherwise support their communities. This finding suggests that overall engagement is more significant than any single component of the course. In addition, the course gave students a greater understanding of the importance of nonprofit organizations, tools for selecting worthy organizations, and a recognition that they can contribute both through donating funds and through giving their time.

Overall, this research contributes to our emerging understanding of the ways student philanthropy courses, particularly through the Pay it Forward initiative, can most effectively engage a new generation of philanthropists. The findings from this report suggest that what occurs in a Pay it Forward course matters and is predictive of students’ confidence in their philanthropic skills and changes in their plans to donate, volunteer, and support their communities. This study can inform the ways instructors design the curricular components of student philanthropy courses to balance disciplinary learning objectives with the engaging, hands-on philanthropy components.

Contact Jodi Benenson at benenson@brandeis.edu for more information.

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