If the pictures in his binder don’t convince you, the canvasser who’s stopped you between Smith Memorial Student Union and Cramer Hall will turn straight to the numbers. One payment a month. Twenty-five dollars. One child.
You feel awful as you shake your head, mouth nothing in particular and walk away. If you had a spare $300 a year, you would be more than happy to donate. Your mind wanders: increasing tuition, books, rent, utilities.
After all, you’re a student, not a philanthropist.
Portland State senior Brian Forrester disagrees. This spring, Forrester will teach a course titled “Hands-on Philanthropy” through the Chiron Studies program, which gives undergraduate students the opportunity to teach administration-approved curriculum.
The class will focus on working alongside nonprofits, with a philosophical look at the nature of philanthropy itself. The kicker? Forrester has managed to raise more than $20,000 dollars in donations that the class will administer to the community.
“It’s really inspiring,” Forrester said. “You have Portland State involved, you have the Schnitzer CARE Foundation involved, and there are a handful of people who have agreed to donate who all have helped me think about the course.”
Forrester works as a consultant and strategist for Strategik Solutions and spends time plugging away at the grassroots level for nonprofit organizations. He also canvassed for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales during his campaign.
But even with such a packed resume, Forrester’s inspiration came from a botched attempt to raise money while visiting, ironically, a high school course designed to teach students how to distribute donated money—just like Forrester’s course aims to do.
“I thought, you know, I was young, they were young, they are going to give me money for sure, and then they asked me a ton of hard questions, and I was like…oh no. This was harder than I thought it was going to be,” he said.
“They didn’t give me a dime, but I remember thinking what a cool idea [that class] was.”
With the help of Ben Anderson-Nathe, Forrester’s faculty advisor, the course was officially submitted for inclusion in the Chiron program. Next, Forrester realized he had to use his professional network to see if he could raise a pool of money for his class to work with.
But that plan was derailed after a chance meeting with the director of the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, who in turn introduced Forrester to Arlene Schnitzer. Schnitzer offered a $10,000 donation—if Forrester could find another $10,000 to match it.
“When I call people up and say…I’m looking for a match to meet the Schnitzer Foundation[’s], they are like, ‘Oh! Arlene is invested in this? OK, let’s hear more,’” he said. “It’s a stamp of approval but also a real symbol of how much they supported the idea.”
Forrester’s plan was to break the match donations down into a series of $1,000 donations from business leaders and philanthropists in the Portland community. One such donation came from Bill Dickey of Morel Ink.
“I’ve met [Forrester] a few times before and spotted him as an up-and-comer,” Dickey said. “But I could tell he was invested in this—he was asking all the right questions.”
Forrester spearheaded his final donations on Thursday, hosting a launch party for Hands-On Philanthropy at the Picnic House. Peppered throughout the crowd of 60 were committed investors such as Dickey, Forrester’s faculty advisors and potential donors ready to hear Forrester’s pitch.
Hales was also present and spoke to the potential donors on Forrester’s behalf.
“The great thing about Portland is that here you aren’t who you are when you got off the boat. You are what you choose to do,” Hales said. “And I’m just so excited that someone here is taking his idea he scribbled off the back of a napkin or something, and has made it real, in his community, in his neighborhood, in his school.”
By the end of that night, donations were still rolling in. More than $20,000 was raised for Forrester’s class, all of which would go into the pool for students to use, as PSU waived the usual registration fee for Chiron coursework to be listed in the academic bulletin.
Ultimately, Forrester and those who donated hope this course will help to illustrate that philanthropy is not limited to how much money any one person can give out of their own pockets. Instead, learning what Hales called “habits of the heart” can help facilitate an understanding that giving can be done in many different ways, whether you are the one giving the money or you are the one offering a helping hand.
Even with the groundwork laid, Forrester was quick to note that the bulk of the work is still ahead.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have so many people—community leaders, friends, students, colleagues—come together all in one place to support you in turning a vision into reality. But this is just the beginning; the real fun starts on the first day of class,” he said.
The course begins April 1 and can be found on the course schedule at pdx.edu.