New report offers advice on giving in education

students in classroom

Given the woeful state of the economy, it’s no surprise that philanthropic giving is on the decline.

With the fall of several big-name corporations and financial institutions, nonprofits have lost the support of once-vital corporate foundations. Meanwhile, as the value of their endowments fall, charitable foundations simply can’t hand out as many grants as they once did. Even support from wealthy individuals is down. In short, there aren’t as many dollars to go around as there once was.

That’s why Katherina Rosqueta believes the work of Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy is more important than ever. The Center, launched in 2006, was established by alumni of Penn’s Wharton School to provide information and tools to support philanthropists’ efforts to direct their gifts where they can make the greatest impact.

“The economy just makes our work that much more urgent,” says Rosqueta, executive director of the Center. “So the question becomes, ‘Are we really spending the money in the best way?’”

The Center recently took a big step toward answering that question—at least in one sector of philanthropic giving—with the release of a new report, “Pathways to Student Success: A Guide to Translating Good Intentions into Meaningful Impact.”

The report is the first-ever guide for philanthropists who seek to make a meaningful impact in improving the education of at-risk youth. The Center says the report provides “independent, practical guidance,” so philanthropists can make sure they maximize the impact of every dollar they give.

“What we really started out with was the one question we were trying to answer: ‘If I’m an individual philanthropist and I have a million dollars to spend, how should I spend it to best achieve my goals?’” Rosqueta says. “[Answering the question] was as difficult as we expected, and it made us appreciate why philanthropists aren’t accessing this information. It’s very difficult to make sense of.”

The report tried to answer three main questions: What is a meaningful change to target?; What activities lead to that change for at-risk students—and who is producing it?; How much does it cost to achieve that change? Among the activities that the report found can deliver change for at-risk youth are the following:
For pre-school-aged students, setting up periodic visits by nurses to prepare kids for school.
For primary school students, improving the quality of literacy instruction and coordinating community resources to meet needs.
For secondary school students, extending learning time through afterschool apprenticeships and engaging students in college preparatory coursework.

The Center’s work isn’t done yet. Its staff is now working on two more reports for philanthropists, one of which will target giving in global health and another that will examine global economic development issues.
“Those three areas [education, global health, global economic development] are historically the largest piece of the pie,” Rosqueta says, “and are also the fastest growing.”

To read the full “Pathways to Student Success” report, or the executive summary, visit the Center’s web site at www.impact.upenn.edu.

Originally published Feb. 5, 2009

Originally published on February 5, 2009