By Ana Hurler
Bruce Levenson, founder of the Do Good Institute, spoke about the importance of giving back and his future plans for the organization during a Q&A session hosted by the Nonprofit and Social Business Society Wednesday night in Van Munching Hall.
Levenson has built a career around doing good and philanthropic efforts, with a focus on inner city education. He’s taken on numerous business ventures, but said founding the Do Good Institute is “far and away” his most important work.
The Do Good Institute began by expanding efforts made by the School of Public Policy and its Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. The institute works to engage the entire campus by giving students the tools and inspiration they need to give back to their community “from the minute you set foot on campus, to the time you leave,” Levenson said.
Through the institute students will learn the leadership skills needed to create organizations that give back. In the few years since its founding, the Do Good Institute has helped students create numerous organizations, such as Terps Against Hunger, No Taboo. Period. and Students Helping Honduras. Any student can also enter the Do Good Challenge to submit their idea to a panel of judges for the chance to win prize money and recognition for their organization.
“The Do Good Institute is a freaking octopus,” Levenson said regarding how many ways it has worked to engage all students in giving back. “It’s going into a million different directions.”
Levenson said he saw the campus environment as the perfect place to unite students and give them these opportunities to help their community.
“It’s cross-pollinated across the campus,” he said.
President of the Nonprofit and Social Business Society, Jacob Tasto, a freshman finance and economics major, said the club’s mission is “to promote social entrepreneurship” and increase “the amount of student involvement in any type of social impact.”
He said he wanted to highlight the lesser known business models of nonprofits and social businesses and asked Levenson to share his wealth of knowledge about the subject. Tasto said he was hoping students would be “inspired to participate more in philanthropic activities,” and “that they have an understanding of where philanthropists come from” if they work for nonprofits.
In the near future, Levenson said he wants to implement even more opportunities for students to learn about the importance of giving back and to give them the resources to do so. Some of the ideas he mentioned included giving incoming freshmen “Do Good dollars” they could donate to campus organizations to become more familiar with opportunities to give back, and presenting a class report card at commencement ceremonies that lists all of the good deeds each class has done.
Eventually, Levenson said he sees the program expanding to other universities around the country.
During the Q&A, Levenson mentioned his personal motivations for getting involved in philanthropy. After learning how many people regret not doing enough with their lives, more than anything, he decided he wanted to leave a “legacy of giving back.”
Levenson and his family have been fortunate enough to be able to donate to many community organizations when asked by friends or if particularly inspired by someone’s story. However, he maintains that “the money part is second to our involvement.”
“I’m much more interested in programs than buildings,” Levenson said, in reference to the buildings on campus that are named after people who donated or were involved in the school.
Freshman accounting and computer science major James Wang, the vice president of technology for the Nonprofit and Social Business Society, echoed Levenson’s sentiments about only focusing on the money.
“Everyone’s so focused on the making money aspect because that’s what people want to do when they graduate from college,” Wang said. “Although you don’t make as much money, the difference between if you do a for profit versus a nonprofit is really what you get out of it personally.”
Wang said he always tries to help others because “you never know when you’re going to need the favor back.”
“College students say they don’t have any time,” Wang said. “My best advice is to make time, because this will reward you in its own way.”
“Giving back…has to be a part of your life,” Levenson said. “It will generate the greatest sense of self-worth for you.”