Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

An Exciting Start to the Year for the Common Good Grant Committee

Story posted November 01, 2011

Twenty-two Bowdoin students in the Common Good Grant program gathered at Cram Alumni Barn recently for an all-day retreat coordinated by student leaders Suzie Rawden ’12, a biochemistry major from Connecticut, and Matt Hillard ’12, an economics/government major from Wisconsin, who worked with McKeen Center staff member Caitlin Callahan ’11. The purpose of the retreat was threefold: to learn more about the greater Brunswick area, to familiarize the students with the way a community foundation functions, and to allow them to get to know each other beyond the context of their weekly Wednesday night meetings.

Whether on the Grant Committee (which solicits proposals from local non-profits) or the Development Committee (which meets with potential donors to invite gifts to fund those proposals) all students will work together to develop a request for proposals (RFP) and a case, while learning about non-profits, grants, foundations, philanthropy and development.

After a morning filled with presentations about the different communities throughout midcoast Maine and the elements of developing an RFP and a case, Matt led the “Community Service Shuffle,” an activity that sparks discussion about the meaning of service. Students ranked a list of service activities in order of those that best represented their personal view of making a difference, and then when different examples were called out, organized themselves by the rank they gave a particular service activity. The physical act of shifting around provided a clear illustration of differences in perception of service informed by the varying backgrounds that committee members bring to the group.

The group continued to bond over a lunch of Indian food, sitting outside on the porch and enjoying the fall weather. Students on the committee come from all over the United States and the world, representing Maine, Indiana, California, the Philippines, South Korea, and France, to name a few locations. After lunch, the group returned inside to answer the question, “What would you do with a million dollars?” and complete the sentence, “I imagine a world where ….” The range of answers was inspiring, including “I imagine a world where … everyone has clean drinking water, everyone is free from domestic violence and sexual assault, and everyone has equal access to a quality education.” 

In the afternoon, the group divided into two smaller groups — the Grant Committee and the Development Committee. The Grant Committee broke into four teams and competed to build the tallest structure out of a given set of building materials: toothpicks, gum drops, and Halloween marshmallow peeps. This activity provided a fun (and very sticky!) illustration of the importance of team dynamics and allowed the participants to get to know one another. The Development Committee broke up into pairs and argued the merits of various mundane issues. Danielle Orchant ’14 and Will Horne ’14 pushed the advantages of using body wash instead of bar soap, while Michael Yang ’14 and Emily Norton ’14 forcibly argued for the use of one space after a period instead of two. Although none of the topics will be the focus of their larger work this year in the Common Good Grant program, learning to develop a case and present it with confidence and conviction is crucial.

By the end of the day, students felt energized by the prospect of the next few months of work. Students appreciated the unique opportunity participation in the Common Good Grant program provides; as one noted, “I really enjoyed planning and making and presenting a pitch because I am never challenged to do something similar in my schoolwork.” By bringing the lessons learned in the classroom and synthesizing that with information gained during this year-long program, students will be able to make educated, convincing, confident asks and decisions during the second semester of this program and in the world beyond Bowdoin.

The Wednesday after the retreat, the Common Good Grant Committee was delighted to host Meredith Jones, CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, and board member Polly Saltonstall. Meredith and Polly brought exciting insights and a wealth of experience to the meeting. The committee found the hour-long discussion about the work of community foundations invigorating and left with some valuable advice on good questions to ask during site visits and the importance of carefully reviewing each grant proposal and non-profit organization. Committee members are excited to use this information as they participate in site visits to various local non-profits during the first two weeks of November.

To learn more about the program, please visit the McKeen Center’s website:

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