New MOOC gives away Warren Buffett’s sister’s money

A Northeastern University professor said the MOOC will focus on individual decision-making in giving.

Billionaire Warren Buffett and his sister Doris have been gradually donating their riches to various causes and projects over the years. In fact, Doris Buffett hopes to redistribute all of her wealth before she dies, and has already given away more than $150 million of it.

Doris Buffett is now letting the students who are taking a new massive open online course (MOOC) about philanthropy decide what to do with another $100,000 of her money.

More than 4,000 people have already signed up for the course, which is called “Give With Purpose.” If more people join, the amount of money being given away could grow.  While the Buffets will be the first guest speakers during the MOOC, it will also feature  philanthropic advice from baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

Each of the givers will be featured in videos at the end of each of the six class sessions discussing an aspect of philanthropy.

“Giving With Purpose allows us to extend the classroom walls to include any individual passionate about philanthropy,” Doris Buffett said in a statement. “There are thousands of people with the energy and ideas to make a difference.”

The MOOC is based on a class that has been taught at more than 30 universities that allows students to give away $10,000 after evaluating several nonprofits and learning about effective giving. This online offering allowed Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation to expand the classes without adding staff to manage the program.

See Page 2 for what students may learn from the course. 

Rebecca Riccio, the Northeastern University professor who will teach the course, said the MOOC will focus on individual decision-making in giving and will teach strategies students can use to make sure their donations are effective.

“It’s an experience that gives profound insight into deciding how we meet the needs of our society,” Riccio said.

Charitable gifts should be relevant to whatever people are passionate about, Riccio said. But this class will teach people how to judge what kind of impact a nonprofit makes and how well-run the charity is based on how much it spends on administration.

Doris Buffett’s grandson, Alex Buffett Rozek, organized the online course, and he said he hopes this will be the first of many times it is offered.

In addition to what students learn in the course about effective giving, the nonprofits involved are also learning because usually the classes focus on smaller local charities. As students review organizations that might receive grant money, the charities learn about the process of winning grants.

“These grants are huge to the organizations that receive them,” Rozek said. “And because they went through the process, they do understand how to fill out a grant application and get funding.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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