Learning By Giving at JMU


SUMMARY: The Department of Social Work received a $10,000 grant from the Learning By Giving Foundation to educate the next generation of philanthropists while distributing funds to local communities in need. Dr. Trull's Grant-Writing class worked with local nonprofits to develop proposals and choose two $5,000 award winners. The high-quality products created by students netted an additional $3,000 for a local agency for being the top group in the nation!

By: Lisa McGuire
Social Work

Learning by Giving

What do you get when you mix forty students from various majors, an energetic faculty member, twenty community agencies and $10,000?  Learning by Giving!  During the spring 2017 semester, JMU joined 42 other colleges and universities around the nation in presenting a course where students are actively involved in strategic philanthropy – by collaborating with a community partner, developing a grant proposal and working as a class to make funding decisions.  Building from a $10,000 grant from the Learning By Giving Foundation, students in Dr. Trull’s grant-writing class (cross-listed between social work majors and family studies, gerontology and nonprofit studies minors) engaged with community agencies and made the decision to award two $5,000 grants to local agencies in the Shenandoah Valley. 

Learning by Giving

The Learning By Giving Foundation, a Buffett family foundation, was created by Doris Buffett to provide a platform for students to become thoughtful and effective givers by making real dollar grants to nonprofit organizations in their local communities.  Since 2003, $2,254,839 has been granted to 613 agencies across the nation.  Over 3,485 students in 151 courses from 47 universities have participated in this process and JMU become the most recent university to offer this experience to students this spring.

Dr. Lisa McGuire, Department Head for Social Work, welcomed the students, agency winners and other guests to a reception to make the final awards, which was the “final exam” for the course.  The LBG grant grew from a small effort between Dr. McGuire and Zanetta Ford, an adjunct instructor for the grant-writing class in 2015-16.  To increase student participation from what could be a rather dry subject, Dr. McGuire solicited funds from family and friends to create a faux foundation that provided $700 each year to give away to local organizations.  In seeking donations for this effort, a colleague from another social work program said “Hey, there is a foundation that does this!”.  LBG was contacted and James Madison became the newest member of the LBG family.

Learning by Giving

The On the Road Collaborative from Harrisonburg and Renewing Housing of Greater Augusta were judged by the class as the top two proposals among the 20 submitted.  However, the good news does not end there!  All schools participating in the LBG project are asked to share products of the learning process, and an additional award was made to the three schools who submit high-quality materials.  The JMU course placed FIRST and an additional $3,000 award was granted to the Arc of Harrisonburg, which was the third-place proposal.  Here is the link to the students’ award-winning blog:

While the agencies benefitted financially, each of the students in the class identified benefits as well.  Tyler Burgess, a nonprofit studies minor wrote:  “While it is disappointing to not have been awarded a grant for the organization we were representing, I just wanted to highlight the impact this process has had on me outside of class. I have learned that the impact of this class goes beyond the $10,000. This class has helped over 40 students become more involved in the community and nonprofits in the area… It has been so amazing to hear my classmates talk about the nonprofits they were representing with such passion… I look forward to seeing what comes out of JMU’s partnership with the Learning by Giving Foundation in the future.”

For more information on Learning By Giving visit:  

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Published: Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, March 22, 2021

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