A project of the Council of Michigan Foundations
Learning to Give (LTG) began as an initiative of the Council of Michigan Foundations’ Improving Philanthropy Committee, and was originally referred to as the K-12 Education in Philanthropy Project. Direct experience with the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project’s (MCFYP) youth grantmakers resulted in the insight that young people — even engaged young people — did not know the history, ethics, operations, and role of the nonprofit sector. At the same time, university academic centers focused on philanthropy had completed enough seminal work to shape an identified body of knowledge that could serve as the basis for academic instruction.
The goal of the project was to deeply infuse the content about philanthropy and voluntary association into the core academic curriculum of K-12 schools so that students could gain deep knowledge and critical skills that would prepare them to be lifelong, informed and engaged citizens and volunteers in their communities.
In an initial collaboration with the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC), a survey was conducted to determine what service learning curriculum and policies were being used in Michigan at the time. A national survey conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University also identified the critical factors and programs involved in raising children with healthy pro-social behavior. The early surveys indicated that there was no similar curriculum/knowledge-based program that could be brought to Michigan. The Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) board then decided to create a comprehensive curriculum for Michigan that could also be a national model.
A curriculum committee, chaired by Dr. Kathryn Agard, was established to shape and lead the new K-12 initiative. This included development of an ongoing advisory committee, a fundraising plan, and the establishment of a process for creating and implementing a comprehensive curriculum. An early stage of the project involved identifying and prioritizing subject matter, and the development of targeted teaching units. CMF partnered with the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, which was formulating a similar service education program at the time, and other Indiana partners interested in youth empowerment and philanthropy education.
Major strategy decisions followed by Learning to Give included:
Upon completion of stringent external evaluation, including assessment of original student work, classroom observation in comparative classes, and survey research, Learning to Give launched as a national initiative in 2007. Lesson plans were coded to meet individual state education requirements so that the academic content of philanthropy could be embedded into the core school curriculum, assisting teachers in meeting their state mandated requirements, rather than existing as an “add on” to an already full curriculum load.
The original steering committee and the Michigan-based programming were later housed under the ConnectMichigan Alliance to protect the state-level program, while LTG pursued partnerships to launch a national effort. LTG was legally incorporated as a supporting organization of CMF and a new nationally focused board was appointed.
Over the course of six years, two attempts were made to transfer Learning to Give to a national partner organization; however, these attempts to scale LTG to a national level were unsuccessful due to differences in mission focus and organizational culture. Even so, teachers in any state and country can, and do access the LTG lesson plans online for use in their classrooms. Since 2013, LTG has been housed under the Council of Michigan Foundations where it continues to reach an international audience.