Purposeful philanthropy - Guild earns Community Impact Award

Written by Colleen Robinson, Forest Stewards Guild.

The program
UW-Madison’s Sellery Hall StartUp Learning Community is made up of students living on one floor of the residence hall who have an interest in entrepreneurship. Of those students, 15 chose to be part of a course that, in part, focused on philanthropy in a very deliberate way.

The Hands On! Philanthropy workshop, as it is called, is designed to help participants become more intentional in their community service and giving. The program is a combination of education, inspiration, and skill development, all the while focused on making connections and building life and business skills.

First, participants are given a process and guidance to explore their personal passions, from a social perspective. Then, they learn to connect with each other and form teams based on shared passions. With shared interest in an issue or cause, the team is offered a framework from which to search out, investigate, and very carefully choose a nonprofit partner to award a grant to during the program.

A shared passion
During this pilot program year, one student team called “Change For Change” developed this vision: “A world where organizations and individuals are unified in a global act against climate change.” Their mission was to “Fund initiatives that spread awareness about climate change and educate the public with an ideal impact of motivating people to take action.” The team found the Forest Steward Guild, read about our efforts, and asked to meet with Guild staff in Madison to learn more. As the Guild’s Communication Coordinator, I was interviewed about programs such as the Forest Stewards Youth Corps, the seemingly countless partnerships the Guild maintains to bring fire back to fire-adapted landscapes under threat from a changing climate, and research and recommendations the Guild has offered to better understand how to support healthy forests and communities be resilient in an unprecedented time of change in ecosystems.

Change For Change team members interviewed other non-profits working on climate change outreach in the Madison area as well. Afterwards, they gathered, shared the information from interviews, and ran a deliberate and thoughtful assessment on each non-profit’s efforts. This process would help them consider the impact those efforts have toward results they were looking for to fulfill a newly articulated, very personal, values-based mission related to social well-being.

Community Impact Award
On May 2, I attended an award ceremony in which the Change For Change team gave a presentation about their journey and offered The Forest Stewards Guild our Hands On! Philanthropy Community Impact Award. At the event, I learned that the team chose the Guild for many reasons. These rose to the top, in their words:

  • “We saw a strong range of programs,
  • We saw a highly focused mission and enthusiastic employees,
  • The Guild consistently tied in their goals alongside our original mission, and
  • The Guild had successful past work to demonstrate their commitment to their goals.

I learned that this experience wasn’t so much about the amount of the gift. These students were not given many thousands of dollars, or hundreds of volunteer hours to offer their award recipients. The point was to help them experience the fact that even without a ton of money, they can make an impact and it can benefit both their recipient and help them personally express their own values into the world. Although this seems an obvious aspect of philanthropy, it is too often overlooked, as we are given so many options to give and often so little time to thoughtfully assess what choices may be most fulfilling. As the course’s program description states,

This fun, thought-provoking journey provides a process, tools, and the skills students need to collaborate and make thoughtful, impactful decisions. As they progress through the workshop, participants contemplate the power of purposeful philanthropy as they clarify and articulate what matters to them most, and then identify, research, and partner with nonprofits that share their vision.

Thank you
The Guild is honored to have been part of this pilot program, the invaluable experience for the students of the Change For Change team, and of course, their clear choice for their Community Impact Award. Thank you to Colin, Brock, Nick, Ben, Shelby, and the program sponsors, creators and facilitators for stewarding and embarking on this important skill-building! It truly can be game-changing, whatever the gift. I know I've gained new perspectives on giving, receiving, and asking through this encounter. We will stay in touch and continue our work on the results you envision. We hope to see Change For Change members become Forest Stewards Guild members, volunteers and donors in the future, as we continue to inspire expression of your personal values.