Student-run Grant Program Matches Donors with Causes

Students receive unprecedented hands-on experience

The country's first student-led program that connects philanthropic donors with deserving nonprofit organizations is up and running at BYU.

"It's like for nonprofits," says Raymon Burton, a second-year MPA student from Heber, Utah, emphasizing in human resource management.

Established in 2008, Grantwell is a student-run organization that gives MPA students in the Romney Institute unparalleled experience working in philanthropy. Grantwell works with individual and institutional grantors to match these donors with the nonprofits that best fit the donors' interests. After the charitable contributions have 2009-10 Grantwell Program (Photo by Isaiah Hudson)
2009-10 Grantwell Program (Photo by Isaiah Hudson)
been used, students measure and analyze the donations' effectiveness and also help grantors with strategic planning. But the nonprofits aren't the only ones who benefit from Grantwell's services.

The program also provides unprecedented experiential learning. BYU students find that placing Grantwell on their résumés gives them a competitive advantage, particularly in an industry that requires years of work experience. This allows BYU MPA graduates to compete with seasoned professionals.

"After graduation our students can say, ‘I have hands-on experience; I've filtered through fifty recipients to help at-risk youth or consulted with Orem City on $1.3 million in grants,'" says Aaron Miller, Grantwell faculty director. "It's more than just saying you took a class."

The idea for Grantwell came when a BYU professor read about a class project at a university where students were helping distribute funds. Romney Institute faculty members were impressed with the idea but wanted to develop it into something more long term with an expanding client list and diverse responsibilities.

"It was like a big bucketful of ideas came pouring into the room at once," Miller says about the Grantwell brainstorming session. "All of us came up with these new ways to give students hands-on nonprofit experience."

In the first two years since its inception, Grantwell has experienced explosive growth. Grantwell started out with one client and one $5,000 grant. It has grown to ten clients, and with thirty returning students and twenty volunteers, Grantwell is poised to take on additional accounts.

One of its more notable projects has been working with the Orem City Council to help disperse its annual CARE tax that funds the arts. Grantwell's students have already streamlined the application process, making it easier for potential recipients to provide the needed information. They have also aided city council members in the selection process. 

Cities traditionally have been a bit reluctant to use outside services because funds come from taxpayer dollars and are entrusted to elected officials. But the research, analysis and application restructuring that Grantwell has completed have been well-received.

"Grantwell students have provided invaluable insight into the CARE tax application and grant process," says Carl Hernandez, Orem City Council member. "We fully expect that Grantwell's future analysis will help us more effectively measure the long-term impacts the tax is having on our community."

Grantwell's reputation is spreading fast. One selling point for its popularity is that work is done on a volunteer basis, and many clients are eager to use its services. Now faculty members and students hope to build on Grantwell's growing reputation and make it a permanent in the community.

"As future public servants, we recognize what it means to be stewards," says Andrew Marshall, executive director of Grantwell and a second-year MPA student emphasizing in nonprofit management from Salt Lake City. "I really do believe you'll see Grantwell graduates running foundations later on because they've had experiences like these."

The Marriott School is located at Brigham Young University, the largest privately owned, church-sponsored university in the United States. The school has nationally recognized programs in accounting, business management, public management, information systems, and entrepreneurship. The school's mission is to prepare men and women of faith, character and professional ability for positions of leadership throughout the world. Approximately 3,000 students are enrolled in the Marriott School's graduate and undergraduate programs.

Media Contact: Joseph Ogden (801) 422-8938
Writer: Sara Elizabeth Payne