Two years ago I visited the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University while wrestling over the difficult decision of where to attend graduate school.
While in the Tanner Building that day I spoke with Aaron Miller. In that short interview, Aaron told me about a program called Grantwell that would change my life forever. That day I caught a glimpse of the skills, experience, connections and opportunities to serve society that Grantwell could provide. As the current executive director of Grantwell, I can attest to all of the above.
Grantwell works for foundations and other large donors, offering grantmaking recommendations and assisting in strategic planning. Grantwell also provides opportunities to network with philanthropists, community leaders and other professional contacts. Ultimately, it prepares students for future work and service in the nonprofit sector.
Case in point: last year seven BYU MPA students, myself included, facilitated the distribution of $10,000 from the Peery Foundation to a nonprofit organization called Real Victory. This beneficial experience for the foundation, the nonprofit and the students took place because of this new, cutting-edge, student-run program. Grantwell bridges the gap between education and philanthropy, students and foundations.
“Grantwell has provided me with real-life experience in foundation work, which has made all the difference in my education,” said Alison Gutierrez, a Grantwell Program officer. “Grantwell has helped me to recognize the contribution a few students can make in their community.”
The organization began three years ago when three faculty members of BYU’s MPA program thought that MPA students merited an education in philanthropy. They initiated a student-run organization — now complete with bylaws, a handbook, team charter and organizational hierarchy — that educates students on philanthropy while giving them hands-on experience. Grantwell students work in a simulated foundation environment.
“Our strategy is focused on the students earning tangible experience in philanthropy,” said Aaron Miller, one of Grantwell’s founders. “In turn, the focus on students benefits our partners because the students do incredible work.”
Grantwell has enjoyed explosive growth in the past academic year, both in student involvement and number and magnitude of projects. I attribute this success to the driven students in the program, who have the external skill set and the internal drive to change the world. In my position I have the unique opportunity to watch Grantwell’s growth from a bird’s-eye view. While our projects are impressive, and our impact is indisputable, the growth I see most, and the growth with the farthest reach, is found in the students themselves. Over the course of this academic year in Grantwell, I have sat in on professional presentations to foundations and city councils, I have read dynamic reports, and I have seen the students work together on teams. There is an almost tangible energy felt in the classroom every week when we meet. Grantwell’s mission of preparing students for careers in the nonprofit sector, serving the community and strengthening the Romney Institute moves forward with great momentum. Grantwell students anxiously engage every day in the great cause of philanthropy.
Students often put in more hours than they are given credit for, attributable to the drive and passion that resonates in the organization.I see students recognizing the impact they are having on communities, in places as distant as South Africa to places as close to home as Orem, Utah. They enthusiastically apply the skills they have gained in the MPA program as well as their own life experiences in each project.
The organization is currently led by students, with faculty advisement. This year alone Grantwell has worked with the Little Heroes Foundation, the Peery Foundation, and Huntsman Gay Global Capital in strategic planning; Orem City in the application and reporting of its CARE Tax; BYU’s Students for International Development and the allocation of its Hunger Banquet Funds; the Peery Foundation on a grantmaking project; and the Walter M. Lewis Foundation with the grant allocation project to assist in preventive healthcare and education in South Africa.
“Being a part of Grantwell this semester has provided me with the opportunity to learn more about effective grantmaking,” said Chrissie Broadbent, a Grantwell Senior Development Program officer.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord makes “every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings” (D&C 104:13). He then warns of the punishment awaiting those who do not impart of their abundance to the poor and the needy (104:18), a commandment emphasized recently with the addition to the church’s mission: to help the poor and the needy. Grantwell assists in the stewardship that foundations have and in their desire to make a social impact for good. Its impact for me is personal. Grantwell has shaped my education and my experience, directing me toward work in philanthropy as opposed to the many other routes available to MPA graduates. Not only that, but the experience and knowledge I have gained here have proved applicable in church callings as well as in family life.
“Grantwell holds a distinct and unique place in the future of the Romney Institute. Being involved with it in its infancy will be something I can be proud of for years to come,” said Mark Macdonald, a recent graduate of the MPA program and current employee of LDS Philanthropies. “It’s been one of the most meaningful things I’ve done during my two years here in the Marriott School and is certainly the farthest reaching service I have offered during the same time.”
I am in awe with the progress made among students and the good done within society. I feel grateful and blessed to be a part of this unique, dynamic organization.