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MBA students practice philanthropy with other people's money

STANFORD -- For a second year, MBA students in the Graduate School of Business gave away $10,000 in other people's money.

The giveaway was on the up-and-up. It was a class project in "Topics in Philanthropy," a 10-week course that employs readings, class discussions and guest lectures to examine a variety of subjects related to the give and take of philanthropy.

The $10,000 came from Applied Biosystems of Foster City, Calif., and the Ford Land Co. of Menlo Park, Calif. It was made available through the Peninsula Community Foundation, which serves San Mateo County and the area around Stanford.

Students in the seminar solicited proposals from nonprofit organizations in the area. To be considered, a proposal had to be sponsored by a student in the Business School who was not a member of the philanthropy class. Each of the 13 qualifying proposals was investigated by a class member before being presented to the entire group at the end of the quarter. Individual requests ranged from $1,000 to $10,000; they totaled $56,693. All had merit. Choosing among them was not going to be easy.

Nor was it easy for the guests who observed the process. Sterling Speirn, senior vice president of the Peninsula Community Foundation; Susan Ford, director of community investments for the Ford Land Co.; and the three professors who teach the course had agreed in advance that there would be no coaching from the audience.

After deliberating for nearly four hours, the students decided to give at least partial funding to six of the 13 projects. Three of them benefit children, one helps the homeless, another assists women entrepreneurs, and the sixth gives operating expenses to a volunteer group that tackles a variety of projects.

If there was any doubt that $10,000 split six ways is effective, consider one of the winners, a repeat from 1991. Last year's philanthropy class had gambled $2,000 on a group of MBA students who proposed to "adopt" two classes of at-risk children at a local grade school. The group, called Building Futures Now, would mentor the children and eventually help pay their way through college.

By the time Building Futures Now applied for a second grant, it had parleyed last year's $2,000 seed money into $336,000, close to the $400,000 it needs to formally establish an "I Have a Dream" program for the third and fourth graders. This year, the philanthropy class granted an additional $2,313 to the group for continued tutoring, field trips and athletics for the youngsters.

Other grants went to:

  • Innovative Housing, $2,500 for its parent-child project, which provides parenting education, affordable housing and support services for low-income, homeless and at-risk single- parent families.
  • Friends for Youth, $2,000 to help expand the organization's volunteer intervention services to troubled youth.
  • San Jose Tomorrow, $1,354 for production of a fund- raising and recruiting video for its mentoring project for elementary and middle schools in San Jose.
  • Community Impact, $1,333 toward operating expenses for the organization, which designs, plans and carries out volunteer projects for nonprofits and public agencies.
  • Women Entrepreneurs Program, $500 in general funding for its program of information, referral and support for self- employed woman.

"Topics in Philanthropy" was developed by Eugene J. Webb, Lane Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Morris E. Eson, professor of psychology at the State University of New York-Albany. The class is taught by Webb, Eson and James C. Thompson, director of the Public Management Program at the Graduate School of Business.


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