Lessons in grantmaking

By Laura Newman

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Two nonprofits serving the youth of Orange County are recipients of grants made by a class of 12 local college students.

For the past semester, undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have engaged in a real-world approach to grantmaking.

Fourteen nonprofit groups responded to the class’ call for proposals, says Eileen Hannan, one of three instructors who taught the class.

After reviewing the proposals the class, chose to distribute their funds to Orange/Chatham Guardian Ad Litem Program and to the Pines of Carolina Girl Scout Council.

Guardian Ad Litem will use its $1,500 grant to award scholarships to neglected, abandoned and abused children, allowing them to participate in week-long summer camps.

The Girl Scout Council, which received $1,000, will provide their programs to girls who cannot afford them for financial or other reasons.

Enrolled in “Promoting change through the nonprofit sector,” the students met a total of 10 times throughout the spring semester to learn about philanthropy and put their knowledge to work.

After learning the required background material, the students selected a cause, requested grant proposals, reviewed the grant applications and finally chose the two recipient nonprofits.

The class, offered for the second time as a one-credit-hour pass or fail course, is made possible by a grant from “Helen’s Fund” at the Fund for Southern Communities and through the Carolina Center for Public Service at UNC-CH.

The grant could be used to fund any need within Orange County that the students determined was pressing and could be adequately addressed.

This choice was the most difficult, says Hannan.

“It took three class periods for the group as a whole to be satisfied,” she says.

Ultimately, the students chose to target “at-risk Orange County youth who experienced language and cultural barriers or low socioeconomic status,” the class wrote in a statement.

“The class worked well as a team,” Hannan says, especially after they had made the tough decision of choosing their cause, and have volunteered to continue making site visits in the fall or spring.

After all their time and effort, the students want to make sure that their programs are having an impact, Hannan says.

“I have such an appreciation for the hard work that goes on before groups can even get these programs off the ground,” senior Jessica Potter says in a statement.

The class was open to all UNC-CH students but preference was given to students of the Public Service Scholars Program of the Carolina Center for Public Service.

Twenty-four students applied for enrollment, double the class’s maximum capacity.

“The class was chosen based on their interest,” Hannan says, “and the diversity of their service experience, year in school and experience in the nonprofit sector.”

Because of this year’s success, Hannan says, the class will be offered again next year.

“The most important lesson I learned was that there are so many organizations out there struggling to help people who are struggling themselves, and that I can really do something in my life to affect at least one of those organizations and a handful of those people,” says Jessica Potter, a senior who took the class.

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