Cover Story: Birth of a Philanthropist

NKU student learns about the trials and passions of nonprofit work

Sep 19, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Jill Johannigman's classroom philanthropy project introduced her to funding and management issues faced by nonprofits such as Henry Hosea House in Newport.

When she signed up for Strategies of Persuasion last fall, Jill Johannigman had no idea a little classroom persuasion would impact so many lives, including her own.

The course was part of a pilot in Northern Kentucky University's Student Philanthropy Project, sponsored by the Mayerson Foundation, which gives grants to an array of area nonprofit efforts. As a student-run philanthropic effort, the NKU project is largely unparalleled nationally.

College kids aren't what most of us envision when we think of philanthropy. I think it'd be fair to say philanthropy is generally assumed to be the domain of rich old farts — good farts, certainly, but old and rich. A speech communication major/sociology minor and member of the NKU varsity soccer team, Johannigman has the sparkling enthusiasm to bring vital energy to the art of philanthropy. Philanthropy, in turn, brings energy to her.

"The Mayerson Foundation gave each class $4,000 to donate to nonprofit organizations (NPOs) of the class' choice," says Johannigman, 21. "So we had to go through a selection process, evaluating the agencies. They would have to submit a Request for Funding Proposal in which they'd itemize what the money would be used for or what the money has been used for in the past."

Fifteen classes participated in the pilot project over four semesters. The idea was to introduce the philanthropic process to students within a variety of disciplines, spanning art, sociology, anthropology, ethnicity, communication and ethics. By spring 2002, 58 grants had been awarded to organizations in greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, students like Johannigman were getting more and more excited about nonprofit work and the project, deemed a success, will continue this fall.

"I had attended a Catholic high school, so the idea of philanthropy was nothing new to me," Johannigman says. "We always had various service projects and activities that we had to do. So I was aware of agencies, serving every need, that needed funding, but I had no idea that there were so many in the area.

"We chartered the areas that needed funding in Kentucky and Ohio, and it was kind of overwhelming. Because you want to help as many as you can. So you need to look at, 'Do I want to give more money to the agency that is going to help (one thing) specifically, or do I want to break it up and help as many agencies and people (as possible)?' "

She says the general consensus among the students was to break the money up and spread it as far as possible.

Johannigman's persuasion class was unique in that the professor, Dr. Cady Short-Thompson, challenged students to convince their friends and families (and themselves) to make additional donations. The 15 students were successful, yielding an extra $5,265 for a total of $9,265 in charitable monies.

Upon visits to the agencies under consideration, many students were inspired to volunteer as well. Johannigman recalled an afternoon helping out at the Henry Hosea House, a Newport soup kitchen.

"I never realized how many organizations there are (that aren't) funded by the government, that rely solely on donations from individuals or businesses," she says. "There are some out there that just getting $1,000 from us is a godsend. And some others where it's really not that much to them, but it's still $1,000."

Johannigman says children-related charities were popular among the students.

"I was particularly drawn to Family Care Network, which is for premature babies with serious illnesses when they're born," she says. "Family Care helps fund these babies' hospital stays for families that are low-income."

In a follow-up course this spring in Applied Social Research, Johannigman and classmates continued their work by revisiting the agencies to which they'd donated in the fall to make sure they were really using the money for what they said they would.

This semester, she continues her commitment to the project as a TA in Short-Thompson's persuasion class. Short-Thompson calls Johannigman a "good juggler."

"She was the natural choice for an assistant," she says. "She's helping me shepherd the many details and logistical matters involved, as well as serve as a liaison with my students."

Short-Thompson and Johannigman have challenged the class — now double the size it was when Johannigman took it — to raise $20,000 in addition to the Mayerson's $4,000. They think it can be accomplished by November.

It's clear that some of Johannigman's natural inclination toward community-mindedness stems from her Delhi roots. She coaches soccer at the high school she attended and plans to stay in her West Side neighborhood, quick to laughingly point out the typical/stereotypical strength of roots that grow in West Side soil.

Following graduation in December 2003, Johannigman hopes to embark on a career in public relations for an NPO. And thanks to the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, she's well on her way. ©