Blogpost: Philanthropy and the American Dream

By Sarah Erwin

giant checkOne of the core foundations of the United States is the idea of “the American Dream.”  This American Dream is something that I recall being pounded into my head every year in elementary school.  After a course on philanthropy, my opinion of the American Dream has changed quite drastically from the one that is presented in elementary school.  Coming from a low socioeconomic household, I felt that I would be able to move up in class, achieving the American Dream through education.  I hold firm to that today, however, I can now see that the opportunity to obtain that dream is not available to every person coming from a low socioeconomic household.  To those that are able to execute a plan to obtain the goal of achieving the American Dream, education is almost always the method through which this must be accomplished.

Prior to this philanthropy course, I attributed my educational successes to myself, and to the hard work that I put in to it.  I can see now that much of my success also needs to be attributed to philanthropists.  According to Giving USA’s Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2011, thirteen percent of philanthropic efforts went toward education in 2011, for a total of 38.87 billion dollars; it is clear that education is important to philanthropists throughout the country.  The overwhelming majority of educational philanthropic dollars goes toward higher education.  My understanding of this is that many of these donors are repayers, giving back to an institution that enabled them to be successful. In doing so, these philanthropists are enabling future generations to achieve their goals and potentially move up in social class.  Allowing for this opportunity in the life of a young adult is transformational for many students; the rest of the life of that young adult will be changed by the opportunity they are allowed through higher education, and the giver is often changed by the impact that they are able to have on another’s life.

Many non-profit agencies work to serve these populations throughout the country.  Our class was given the opportunity to work with non-profit agencies in Michigan that serve low socioeconomic children through educational initiatives.  The parameters were set by our class, and we were given the opportunity, through a foundation out of Texas, to donate one hundred thousand dollars to a non-profit agency or agencies of our choosing.  Over the course of the semester, our class worked together to give the money to two deserving organizations that met our agreed-upon parameters.  The process of making these philanthropic efforts was enriching, fulfilling, and rewarding.

After the tedious task of narrowing down over thirty organizations to just a handful, the task of choosing just two became very difficult.  In the end, two wholly worthwhile and promising non-profit organizations received grants.  The Baldwin Promise Zone and All the World’s a Stage both work toward enriching educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Michigan.  It is my belief that the organizations which myself and my peers selected will make an impact which has the potential for making a transformational change in the lives of youth who are truly in need.

The process of giving a large sum of money to worthy organizations is one for which I will always be grateful.  Being part of a contribution that can make an impact on a need that exists for so many people throughout our state and country has been rewarding in a way in which is difficult to put into words.  The privilege that I have by being able to attend a school like the University of Michigan is not lost upon me, and after this course and the opportunity that the foundation in Texas has granted, I am better able to understand why it is so incredibly important to give back to others, allowing them the same opportunities that I have been given.




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