Last month, students, faculty, grantees, donors, and friends gathered for Goizueta Business School’s Philanthropy Lab giving celebration, which took place at Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Atlanta. During the celebration, student teams awarded nearly $90,000 in grants to 13 Atlanta-based nonprofits. In the five years since Goizueta launched its Philanthropy Lab course, more than $400,000 in grants have been awarded.

Emory University is one of 32 schools that operate in partnership with The Philanthropy Lab program. The organization, based in Ft. Worth, TX, aims to expand student interest and participation in philanthropy. Since 2011, the Philanthropy Lab program has invested nearly $15 million in partner schools to facilitate experiential courses on philanthropy.

The Power of Experiential Learning

Brian Goebel addresses attendees at Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab giving ceremony
Brian Goebel addresses giving ceremony attendees

Goizueta’s Philanthropy Lab course is designed to be experiential. Students form “mini foundations” that, according to the class syllabus, are “challenged to identify and make grants to Atlanta-based nonprofits, incubated by the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI), that address inequity in innovative ways.”

“Experiential learning is the best way to get at the nuance and complexity of fields like philanthropy or business,” said Brian Goebel, managing director of Goizueta’s Business & Society Institute. “Nonprofits and philanthropic organizations leverage a lot of the same core management skills, structures, and processes to be effective in their work.”

Wes Longhofer addresses attendees at Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab giving ceremony
Wes Longhofer addresses giving ceremony attendees

The Philanthropy Lab program typically works with liberal arts departments such as sociology and history. However, Wesley Longhofer, executive academic director for Goizueta’s Business & Society Institute and associate professor of organization and management, wondered if a business school might have sustained demand for this type of class.

In 2019, he approached Goebel with the idea and, not long after, Goizueta’s Business & Society Institute launched its first Philanthropy Lab course. During the recent celebration, Longhofer reminded attendees that the course was created to be “place-based.” That is, it shouldn’t “shy away from the issues and challenges that Atlanta is facing.” (A SmartAsset 2024 Study places Atlanta, GA, among the top five U.S. cities where income inequality is highest.) Since the course’s inception, enrollment has been steady. This year, 27 undergraduate BBA students and five MBA students took the class.

Students Share Experiences

BBA student Agha Haider shares his experiences from Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab with those attending the giving ceremony
Agha Haider 25BBA

As part of the celebration, one of those students, Agha Haider 25BBA spoke to the course’s impact. “This semester has opened many of our eyes to ways that we can impact the community around Atlanta,” Haider told the audience. He described what he called, “the Emory bubble,” the notion that students who attend Emory University don’t experience the “real” Atlanta. He described the Philanthropy Lab as an opportunity to break out of that bubble, especially when conducting face-to-face interviews with the nonprofits as potential grantees.

We have had the opportunity to meet with all of you. And we have learned more about the ways that you’re shaping your community for the better.

Agha Haider 25BBA

“One of the things this class has taught us is to really take some time to learn more about the community you’re currently in—whether that’s as a post grad in New York City or in rural Alabama,” Haider told the community leaders and grantees in attendance.

Beyond the Metrics

Alan Ferguson, former CEO of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity shares important insights with students at Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab giving ceremony
Alan Ferguson 99MBA

Alan Ferguson 99MBA welcomed attendees to Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s headquarters. The former CEO of Habitat for Humanity now serves as chief housing and real estate officer at Atlanta Housing.

He reminded the students that outcomes go “beyond the metrics.” It is important, he said, to track resources and results. However, “trust-based outcomes,” which are more difficult to measure, are equally as important, Ferguson said. He used Habitat for Humanity as one example.

How many homeowners have been able to use their home as a platform to transform their lives in other ways? Maybe they pursue additional education or entrepreneurial dreams. Or they may really take time to invest in themselves, in their hobbies. They may start doing crafts and gardening, and all those types of things that add to their quality of life in a robust way.

Alan Ferguson 99MBA

In addition to Goizueta Business School and the Center for Civic Innovation, the Emory Philanthropy Lab receives support from The Shapiro Foundation and an anonymous Emory University alum. “Giving money away and doing it thoughtfully to make a positive impact and do no harm is harder than people think,” explained Goebel. “That’s been a neat part of this program. It’s gratifying to see those affiliated with the Emory and broader Atlanta community give back. They are helping this generation learn how to be effective philanthropists and changemakers.” A number of community leaders served as guest lecturers throughout the course.

The 2024 Philanthropy Lab Awards Grants to 13 Recipients

Six student teams—five teams comprised of BBA students and one team of MBA students—awarded grants to recipient organizations. From a field of 23 nonprofits, the students selected 13 community organizations to receive these grants. “I give the students great kudos. It’s hard to make those decisions when you see so many good organizations apply for funding,” explained Goebel.

3D Girls, Inc.

Educating and empowering young women and girls to advocate for themselves and their families. [Grant amount: $5,666]

BestFit, Inc.

Removing barriers to economic mobility while building self-efficacy and reducing cognitive burden—increasing educational outcomes, employment opportunities, and long-term economic growth prospects. [Grant amount: $8,322]


Providing dignity, community, and opportunity to middle and high school-aged youth experiencing homelessness through multidisciplinary arts immersion and mentorship. [Grant amount: $4,583]

Close Ties Leadership Program

Unlocking Black boys’ full potential through early exposure to college and career opportunities, in-school mentorship, and individualized social-emotional support. [Grant amount: $10,000]

College AIM

Creating a more equitable postsecondary system by exposing students to college and financial aid opportunities, counseling young people from ninth grade through college graduation, and dismantling systemic racial and economic barriers. [Grant amount: $10,000]

Freedom University

Educating and empowering undocumented students and fulfilling their human right to education. [Grant amount: $9,583]

Goodie Nation

Eliminating the relationship gap that stands in the way of success for too many promising entrepreneurs, especially those who are people of color, women, or aren’t located in coastal financial centers. [Grant amount: $ 6,500]

Hope for Youth, Inc. (HYPE)

Empowering girls of color with technology skills that prepare them to become future leaders in 21st century careers, cultivating a pipeline of diverse talent for the tech industry. [Grant amount: $7,083]

Jared’s Heart of Success Inc

Educating and empowering youth through impactful communication, focusing on conflict resolution and mental well-being. [Grant amount: $7,083]

Learning In Color Corporation

Designing inspiring K-12 educational facilities to improve the learning outcomes of low income, Black and brown students so that they gain math and reading proficiency and graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. [Grant amount: $6,166]

Small Bites Adventure Club

Helping children discover and eat more fruits and vegetables by empowering their educators with high quality, equitable, and affordable hands-on cooking resources. [Grant amount: $3,500]

Step Ahead Scholars

Creating educational equity by empowering historically under-resourced students to and through higher education and towards equitable life outcomes, so they can thrive in today’s social and economic climate. [Grant amount: $8,000]

Umi Feeds

Addressing the critical issue of food waste by rescuing surplus food and redistributing it to those in need. [Grant amount: $3,500]

Umi Feeds receives a grant during Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab giving ceremony
Umi Feeds

For the third year in a row, Close Ties Leadership Program received a grant, this year collecting $10,000. The organization serves young Black boys in underserved communities. “We are committed to them and to their families and their communities from the time they’re 10 until they graduate high school,” explained Brandon Martin, CEO, Close Ties Leadership Program. Currently, 60 boys are enrolled in the program. With the grant, Martin plans to extend the organization’s team to serve 90 boys next year. The Goizueta students impressed Martin. “You can feel the intense knowledge and experience they’ve learned,” he said.

Like Close Ties, Freedom University has been awarded multiple grants from the Philanthropy Lab. The organization works to empower undocumented students banned from equal access to higher education in Georgia. Freedom University received $9,583 from the program this year. “There is a parallel here. Undocumented students today are experiencing some of what we experienced as Black Americans back in my time,” said Charles A. Black, Freedom University’s Chairman of the Board. Born in Miami, FL, in 1940, Black was unable to attend segregated colleges in Florida. He moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College, where he was a leader in the Atlanta Student Movement.

Freedom University plans to use the grant to fund a virtual study abroad program in Japan. “Undocumented students can’t leave the country if they ever hope to come back,” explained Laura Emiko Soltis, executive director, Freedom University. The four-week program is open to undocumented students at Freedom University, Oglethorpe University, and Emory University.

Building Connections across Degree Programs

Throughout the course, the BBA and MBA students attended class together. Many of the students, along with class partners, made a class-sponsored trek to the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. During the trip, the students learned how nonprofits like the initiative address racial inequality. “I think it created a more dynamic learning environment,” said Goebel. “It was powerful to have connections built across our degree programs.”

Creating a Space of Nuance

Tené Traylor of the Urban Institute speaks at Goizueta's 2024 Philanthropy Lab giving ceremony
Tené Traylor of the Urban Institute

Tené Traylor, vice president for nonprofits and philanthropy at the Urban Institute, co-teaches the Philanthropy Lab course along with Goebel. “So many people, when we meet, say they wish they’d had this class when they were in college. They would have been able to understand more about giving. Or they would have been able to challenge their thinking about giving,” says Traylor. “What we try to do is to create space for that, for the rigor of that thinking. We also try to give them a bit of space to hold the emotions related to that. Because the work is very nuanced. It’s not black and white. Hopefully we’re able to create a space of nuance for these young people.”

Over the next 12 and 24 months, students will follow up with the nonprofits to learn how the grants are being implemented.

The Philanthropy Lab has provided guidance and seed funding for Emory’s Philanthropy Lab to take shape. The course has local support from Emory’s network of donors, including The Shapiro Foundation. It is delivered in collaboration with the Center for Civic Innovation.

Read more about how Goizueta’s Business & Society Institute is shaping business for the future.