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Teaching About Fund Raising in the 21st Century

How does one go about teaching principles of fund raising to 40,000 students in over 100 countries? That was the dilemma I faced when I was approached by Philanthropy University, an entity that bills itself as “a free, first-of-its kind educational initiative for change makers in the social sector.” Philanthropy U, which offers courses exclusively over the internet to students worldwide, is associated with the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.

First, there was the difficulty of dealing with such a diverse group of students living and working in countries with a wide variety of philanthropic traditions. My students in the past, while they may have come from different types of organizations, all operated under a tax system that had produced a unified set of laws and fund raising practices. For this course, I had to spend a good deal of preparation time trying to master how fund raising took place in other parts of the world.

Then there was the challenge of teaching over the internet. In the past, I have always had large blocks of time at my disposal to teach complex concepts (never less than 45 minutes). Now I was told that students rarely wish to stay glued to a lecture over the internet for more than five or six minutes. I ended up rethinking my material, repackaging the concepts into smaller, bite-size morsels. Furthermore, individual communication with tens of thousands of students is impossible, so Philanthropy U developed a peer-learning approach in which students gave feedback to one another’s work and then a staff member proposed a few assignments for me to evaluate that would help everyone master basic concepts.

Finally, I had to decide what level of course I would offer. Would it be basic or advanced? Either way, many people might be disappointed. In the end, I chose to do both, suggesting that the basic material was good review for those who might be familiar with it. I need not have worried. As it turned out, my students were primarily young, engaged in extraordinary grass-roots projects, and eager to learn everything they could. As in all good teaching situations, I learned as much as anyone. If many of my students represent the millennial generation, I can be optimistic about the future.

The course HOW TO CONNECT WITH DONORS with Dr. Thomas Wolf will be offered several times this year. For those interested, click here for more information.

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