Train ‘em Young: How William Penn’s Charter School Is Giving Philanthropy Lessons

When the name William Penn comes up in regard to grantmaking, we’re usually talking about the influential William Penn Foundation. But not today. There’s another William Penn entity in Philadelphia that’s taking philanthropic giving to the next levela younger level.

The William Penn Charter School offers a summer elective course called Philanthropy 101, which teaches kids about the things that most nonprofit officers and individual donors only hope to learn much later in life. Penn Charter is a Pre-K through Grade 12 Friends school that puts Quaker principles and practices to work through academics, athletics, and religion, and civic participation.

“We split into two groups, and each determined which areas we were interested in,” explained one junior, Daniela Guillen. “One group was interested in animals and people with disabilities and the other was interested in education and children. We tried to combine the ideas and Pegasus was perfect because it works in all those areas.”

The students ended up deciding on Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy as their grantee and presented the nonprofit with an $8,000 grant. Located in Northeast Philadelphia, Pegasus uses horses and riding to help disabled kids strengthen their muscles and improve coordination.

A teacher by the name of Jim Ballengee teaches Philanthropy 101 at Penn Charter, and he also founded the school’s Center for Public Purpose. After consulting with nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, and other experts in the field of charitable giving, he developed a program for his students to start dabbling in the philanthropic world.

Leaders from the Barra Foundation, the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, the Philanthropy Network, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy weighed in for this particular endeavor. And part of the $8,000 in grant money actually came from a Patricia Kind Family Foundation grant.

Related: Patricia Kind Family Foundation: Philadelphia Grants

So what’s the take-away from this little classroom experiment that yielded a big check?

“The most important thing I learned in the course was about high-impact philanthropy and ensuring your gift dollars go as far as they can,” said Isiah Powell-Taylor, a rising senior.

With nationwide foundation giving on the rise and funder assets increasing every year, training ‘em young has never been more important. And with so many formerly tight-lipped family foundations branching out to hire non-family, professional staff lately, the demand is up for experienced nonprofit workers.

Now perhaps some of the William Penn Foundation's support for charter schools will pay off in a decade or so, when a new crop of aspiring philanthropists and program officers enter the job market.

Related: William Penn Foundation: Grants for Charter Schools