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Fidelity program encourages good will

BU among 5 colleges given $15,000 to seed philanthropy

Email|Print| Text size + By Sacha Pfeiffer
Globe Staff / December 14, 2007

In an effort to nurture a future generation of philanthropists, the charitable arm of Fidelity Investments is giving five colleges - including Boston University, the only school selected in Massachusetts - each a $15,000 fund students will decide how to distribute as grants.

The program, sponsored by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, the country's fourth-largest public charity, will put the students in the role of real-life philanthropists. Just as trustees at private foundations and other grant-making organizations do, they will have a chance to form boards of directors, create donor guidelines, research prospective grant recipients, choose which nonprofits should get money and how much they should receive.

"They get to do the whole thing," said Kristen McCormack, faculty director of the public and nonprofit management program at BU's School of Management, which offers a course that will dovetail with Fidelity's program.

BU was chosen from 35 schools in 16 states that competed for one of Fidelity's donor-advised funds, which allow private individuals to recommend grant recipients. Competing schools were asked to submit proposals that outlined a "holistic charitable giving program" that would integrate the fund into a winter/spring 2008 course on nonprofits and philanthropy.

The other winners are California State University in Fresno, Portland Community College in Portland, Ore., the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.

In deciding how to disburse the money, the students will have to consider a variety of issues, many of which are hot topics in philanthropy circles. Among them: How big should a board of directors be, and who should be on it? Should grant recipients be chosen based on the type of work they do, or the communities they serve? Should all the money be given away, or should some of it be reinvested so the fund will last in perpetuity?

Each class also will be responsible for managing the money by selecting which Fidelity mutual funds it should invest in, and the classes may incorporate fund-raising into the course in an attempt to increase the size of the fund. One of the few guidelines the students must follow is that between 50 and 75 percent of the money should be distributed to IRS-qualified nonprofit groups by May.

"For somebody at the undergraduate level to have an opportunity to make that kind of a real impact is incredible," said BU senior Jon Hammer, a New Haven native who is studying finance and wants to work in nonprofit management. "In the for-profit world your bottom line is increasing shareholder value, but in the nonprofit world your bottom line is the good you do for the world," Hammer added, "and I like the idea of being able to do something that could impact people who are trying to do good."

Hammer is among 24 BU management students, most of them juniors and seniors, enrolled in a course next semester that will teach them to explore the nonprofit sector through the eyes of a philanthropist. It will be taught by McCormack, and students will manage the $15,000 fund under her supervision.

"Students are going to learn what it means to create thoughtful, workable plans for long-term charitable giving," said David Giunta, the president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, which has disbursed $7.3 billion since its inception in 1991. It holds $4.6 billion in assets. "Our hope is that this program will help build the nation's philanthropic leaders of the future," he added.

The program is also sponsored by Campus Compact, a coalition of more than 1,100 colleges and universities working to build civic engagement into academic life.

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at pfeiffer@globe.com.

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