Giving circles and the classroom

Compiled by Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors |

Emily Denton is a teacher, an original Giving Sum member and board member. What she values most about her experience with the giving circle is the exposure to many exemplary nonprofits in Indianapolis. Those connections have made a different in her classroom.

After meeting with VSA Indiana staff on a site visit, she continued the connection. That connection led to her St. Thomas students volunteering for the Arts-for-All event that was held on the lawn of the governor’s residence, a short walk from school. Her students worked side-by-side with VAS teaching artists to support children with disabilities, and met the state’s first lady Karen Pence.

Based on her experiences, she saw the value in replicating what young professionals were doing with her eighth-grade English students. Four years ago, she used the activity as a motivating end-of-the-year project.  

Application in the classroom

“As a writing teacher, I wanted to create an end-of-year project that would engage students in a meaningful way — but also still require writing.

I told my students a little about Giving Sum and my involvement. The students were especially interested in the philanthropic aspect and were surprised that a relatively small group was able to give a $50,000 grant to an organization each year.

The students bought into this project right away, and I think that was in part due to me opening up about my involvement in Giving Sum and the projects that Giving Sum members had made possible.  They were especially interested in the playground we’d built for the children at Coburn Place.

Organizations did not apply; I gave the students a list of nonprofits in our city, explained the request for proposal process that many nonprofits use to fund their programs, and told them they were going to get to create an RFP for the organization of their choice.

Students selected an organization. They did some research individually, and then worked in groups to devise a plan for convincing the class that their nonprofit was most deserving of the grant money. Students spent a week of class time creating presentations with slides to address each requirement of the proposal request. I used a rubric that included all the elements required in the Giving Sum RPF form.

They presented to the class and each student was allowed to vote for one organization, but not his or her own, to receive the grant money.  To add to the real-world element of this project, the students were told that one group’s organization would be chosen to receive an actual $100 grant. I actually provided the $100 grant, not the students and made a one-time donation to our class winner — the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis.

Volunteering was not involved, although my hope was that through exposure to these organizations, the students would be inspired to get involved in some of the great services these organizations provide in our city.

Junior high is a great age to be exposed to philanthropic and service organizations. St. Thomas students are required to complete service hours throughout the school year. My hope was that the Giving Sum grant proposal model would expose my students to nonprofits in our city, create a little competition through the request process and provide a real-world writing situation.

It is also a great age to introduce service learning and giving circles.  Students this age have so much to gain by looking beyond themselves and learning about how many people in our own city are in need.  When my students reflect on their time serving others, they often mention how positive and capable the experience made them feel.”

The impact they have on others leaves an impression on them, and they learn more about their own passions through their service. So often teenagers feel that, even if they have great visions, they can’t create real change on their own. Introducing the giving circle model empowers students and demonstrates the larger impact individuals can when they pull their resources for a common goal.”

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