In an effort to inspire a new generation of philanthropists, the University of Montana is offering a class teaching business students the importance of corporate philanthropy.

"It's a great way to feel connected to a community," said Andrea Vernon, director of the UM Office for Civic Engagement and co-instructor of the class.

The private sector, government and nonprofit community are all important segments of society, she said. Corporate philanthropy helps keep all of those branches functioning together, she said.

"It's an important part of our democratic society," she said.

Using a grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation's Learning by Giving Program, the class offers hands-on learning by providing students with $10,000 to distribute to local organizations and nonprofits that meet criteria outlined by the students.

The dozen students enrolled in the business course will interview members of the nonprofit community to try to identify the greatest local needs.

Last year, through a pilot project, the students distributed $10,000 to seven nonprofits that fell in the categories of health, education or youth. Corporate philanthropy was taught as part of another course called "Leadership and Motivation."

However, instructors felt there was enough interest and material to make corporate philanthropy its own course, allowing students more time to get involved, Vernon said.

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Anymore, corporate philanthropy is more than a marketing ploy, said Bambi Douma, UM business professor and co-instructor of the class. Often it affects the type of employees who work at a business. They are more loyal, committed and engaged because they feel as though they are part of an effort that gives back. Plus, consumers want to do business or to support businesses that show social responsibility, Douma said.

This is the first year of the three-year grant. UM is among 15 universities in the country selected for the program. Other universities include Tufts, Cornell, Georgetown University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Come the end of March, once students have determined the greatest needs in Missoula, they will ask local nonprofits to submit requests for funding. The students will then distribute the money to nonprofits of their choice.

Students like that the class offers practical experience rather than simply lectures, Vernon said.

"They have real money to give away."

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

 

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