Teaching Civic Engagement Through Student Philanthropy: Theories and Best Practices for Transformative Learning


  • Morgan W. Smallwood University of Wisconsin - Madison
  • Cynthia R. Jasper University of Wisconsin Madison




student philanthropy, service learning, civic engagement, transformative learning, higher education, experiential learning, action learning


Student philanthropy courses are designed to teach students to ethically contribute financially to their communities. Students explore the role of values in philanthropy while actively allocating, distributing, and evaluating financial giving. Although studies have indicated positive outcomes from such courses, little is known about the processes and best practices that inform these outcomes. This mixed-methods case study reconfirms positive civic engagement outcomes while using qualitative data to inform classroom practices. Results show positive increases in civic engagement attitudes (+9%) and civic behaviors (+6%) with the greatest changes in measures related to the importance of philanthropic giving (+26%) and feeling responsible for the community (+27%). Qualitative results show the significant impacts of inclusive teaching, developing learning communities, and connecting with nonprofits on student growth and civic engagement. Students also developed transferable skills, learning to communicate, make decisions, and compromise in a dynamic group setting. Recommendations for best practices in designing student philanthropy courses are provided.

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Author Biographies

Morgan W. Smallwood, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Graduate Student

School of Human Ecoogy

Civil Society and Community Research

Cynthia R. Jasper, University of Wisconsin Madison

Vaughan Bascom Professor of Women and Philanthropy, Department Chair of Civil Society and Community Studies 

School of Human Ecology