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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sillerman Center introduces competition to encourage philanthropy

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Features

ADVANCING PHILANTHROPY: Sillerman Center Director of Capacity Building Claudia Jacobs ‘70 has developed The 2010 Campus Challenge to encourage Brandeis community members to put their minds together across age and program in order to develop innovative philanthropic strategies. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

ADVANCING PHILANTHROPY: Sillerman Center Director of Capacity Building Claudia Jacobs ‘70 has developed The 2010 Campus Challenge to encourage Brandeis community members to put their minds together across age and program in order to develop innovative philanthropic strategies.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Sometimes the best ideas come to us when we’re in transit. At least, that was the case for Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management Lisa Lynch.

It all started about a year ago. Lynch was on a plane returning to Boston from a meeting in New York with the Sillerman family, the namesake of the Heller School’s Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy. During her flight, Lynch got to thinking about what kind of program would make the Sillermans proud while also advancing philanthropy on the Brandeis campus at the same time.

Back at Brandeis, she approached Claudia Jacobs ’70, director of capacity building for the Sillerman Center. True to one of Brandeis’ four pillars – social justice – the center’s mission is to support philanthropy that advances social justice. It does so through research, education and practice and leadership development, and serves as a resource for Heller graduate students.

With the Center’s mission in mind, Lynch told Jacobs about the MIT robotics prize – a competition for student inventors. Such an event, Lynch thought, could be the perfect way to encourage Brandeis students to get interested in philanthropy.

In keeping with President Jehuda Reinharz’s recurring theme of the “connected university” and the Heller School’s motto of “knowledge advancing social justice,” Lynch and Jacobs developed a plan – the Sillerman Prize for Innovations in Philanthropy – that would unite members of the Brandeis community while also encouraging philanthropic action.

Participants in the Sillerman Prize competition must form mixed teams with a minimum of four members. At least two members must represent different sectors of Brandeis life, whether they be undergraduate students; graduate students from the International Business School, the Heller School of Social Policy and Management or the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; students from the Rabb School of Continuing Studies or the Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or members of the Brandeis National Committee.

Teams will work together to create a five to eight page written plan that would advance philanthropy on college campuses. The winning team will receive $5000 in prize money. The money is not meant to support actual implementation of the idea, Jacobs said. Rather, it’s simply a reward for the members of the winning team.

After all, Jacobs said, the competition is meant to be a fun way to spread excitement about philanthropy.

“Most people have heard about the community service movement and how that swept through campuses, and we want philanthropy to do the same,” she said.

The college environment certainly seems like the perfect place to do so, she said: “We really feel that it can [spread] because undergraduates and graduate students are sometimes at the place where they have the most idealism and [the majority of] their life [and] their careers before them, and so it’s a great place to develop philanthropic values.”

The Sillerman Center will host four workshops for members of the Brandeis community interested in joining or learning more about the competition. These workshops will also serve as opportunities for participants to meet other community members they might never interact with otherwise. The first will be held Sept. 25 at 2:30 p.m. in Heller room 163.

Seeking out innovative ideas circulating among Brandesians serves as a way to strengthen community bonds and form ideas, but it also serves as intellectual inspiration for the Sillerman Center, Jacobs said.

“It’s also from a place of humility too [because] we don’t have [all] the ideas,” she said. “There are so many fresh ideas that could percolate when people get together.”

BOLLI Director Sharon Sokoloff ’91 said she’s excited for the upcoming competition because intergenerational programs are one of BOLLI’s main focuses. “[This type of work is] very very important to us and we love it,” she said.

In addition to its involvement with the Sillerman Center, BOLLI has seven other intergenerational programs, Sokoloff said: “It is one of our program’s strategic priorities and has been [since the beginning of BOLLI].”

Having teams of both young and old members will help to strengthen each team’s ideas, Jacobs said: “It maximizes the integration of our campus and it gets people thinking about innovations that others might not have thought about before, and those that can be spread to other campuses.”

The Sillerman Prize is just one of many manifestations of the Sillerman Center’s goals of advancing philanthropy, a goal they hope to spread to other colleges.

In addition to the Sillerman Prize Competition, the Sillerman Center is also seeking to spread philanthropic values in the classroom. Last year, Jacobs and Elenore Garton, a Ph.D. student at the Heller school, taught a graduate course at the Heller School where students distributed $40,000 to philanthropic causes. Garton plans on teaching a similar undergraduate course this spring.

This past summer, the Sillerman Center also brought faculty from 20 other colleges involved with similar classes to the Brandeis campus for a conference.

Just like the philanthropic movement is currently moving beyond the United States to include other countries worldwide, Jacobs hopes the Sillerman Prize will serve as inspiration for other schools to join in on the movement: “We really feel like it can even be [more] highly developed in the U.S., and where better to start than when people are impressionable?”