Students give real donation dollars to charities as part of new NUS course

SINGAPORE - Which charity would you donate to if your team had $5,000? It was not a hypothetical question for undergraduates taking a new course at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

About 30 undergraduates had to think through this question, and give actual dollars to charities they deemed worthy of donations, under the course titled Measuring Success in Philanthropy and Impact Investing, which NUS Business School offered in August this year.

The total amount of $40,000 given to the charities was donated by philanthropist Keith Chua, who chairs the advisory board of the school's Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP).

The charities were recognised at an event on Wednesday, in which some students also gave presentations on what they had learnt in the course.

Students had learnt frameworks to assess the performance of charities, such as their relevance, social impact and financial sustainability.

Armed with the knowledge, they studied a sample of 77 charities with revenues of $1.5 million to $10 million, as these usually had more public information available.

Each of the seven teams of students then donated $5,000 to its top-rated charity, based on what the group learnt, though there was room for individuals' subjective preferences. Out of the seven charities, the class also chose one that is most "donation-worthy" - Home Nursing Foundation - and it received an additional $5,000.

The course is inspired by a Learning By Giving programme funded by American investor guru Warren Buffett's family, and was taught by Dr Tan Jee Peng of ACSEP, who has worked in the World Bank for about 30 years.

Said Dr Tan: "Thoughtful philanthropy is becoming an increasingly relevant topic because there is a lot of wealth in this country."

Undergraduate Tiffany Kong, 25, said she was grateful for the opportunity to apply what she learnt. "Benjamin Franklin once said - 'If you tell me, I'll forget. If you teach me, I may remember. But if you involve me, I'll learn.' And that's what this course has done for us."