Spreading Strategic Philanthropy: Prof. Takes Course to Sienna

A peak Berkeley-Haas experience for Vivian Wei, BS 11, was donating $10,000 to nonprofits during her time in school.

Wei (pictured below) was not an unusually flush undergrad at the time; she was a student in Cal Strategic Philanthropy, a course taught by Nora Silver, director of the Haas School’s Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership. Subtitled “Real Money, Real Impact,” the course teaches its undergrad participants to be effective philanthropists.

Silver, also an adjunct professor, is leading a workshop on Strategic Philanthropy in Sienna, Italy, this week for the International Society for Third-Sector Research. “The purpose is to inspire and prepare instructors worldwide to teach an experiential undergraduate class in strategic philanthropy, and to provide resources and a professional network to support their course development,” says Silver.

Learning strategic philanthropy proved valuable to Miss San Francisco Vivian Wei, BS 11

The Cal course teaches students about personal and group values, group decision-making, social issues, grant-making criteria, nonprofit assessment, social impact, and the landscape of philanthropy. “The class is an example of classic Berkeley-Haas innovation, one where classroom teaching leads directly to real-world impact,” says Silver.

To support that real-world impact, the Learning by Giving Foundation has contributed $10,000 each year to the Cal Strategic Philanthropy class, giving student teams the opportunity to research and identify, perform due diligence, and select nonprofits to receive the funds. “It is challenging because there is so much that goes on behind the scenes at a nonprofit,” says Wei, now a tax consultant with Deloitte. “We conducted a lot of interviews to learn how each organization could use our money effectively.” Wei’s class gave $5,000 each to SPARK, which provides apprenticeships to youth from disadvantaged communities, and Swords to Plowshares, to support a green job training initiative for veterans.

Wei, who claimed the Miss San Francisco title in March 2012 and went on to compete for the Miss California Crown this June, has given a lot of interviews herself. “When judges asked about my favorite class in college, I always talked about Strategic Philanthropy and how proud I was that we were able to act as a foundation to support local Bay Area nonprofits,” she says. 

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