Student Philanthropy Program Raises and Donates Thousands of Dollars to Nonprofits

By Lily Echeverria ’26

After spening the past year engaging in fundraising and philanthropy, students in the Common Good Grant program (CGG) recently presented grants to nine Maine organizations.

Audience members react to an announcement at the CGG ceremony
At the end of the spring semester, the McKeen Center hosts a reception for Common Good Grant students and grantees.

CGG is a unique program run by the McKeen Center that gives Bowdoin students real-life philanthropic experience, both with seeking donations and evaluating grant request proposals. In the process, they also learn more about Maine and agencies serving nearby communities.

Each fall, participating students decide which of two committees they want to join: the development committee, which is responsible for raising money, or the grant committee, which researches deserving organizations.

This fall, CGG received fifty-four letters of intent and had to narrow down their selection process from there. In the end, they awarded $34,500 to nine organizations.

The group of students who participated in the CGG this year
The 2024 Common Good Grant team, with Associate Director of the McKeen Center for the Common Good Samantha Cogswell ’11, bottom left. Photo by Paulina Morales ’24.
2024 Common Good Grant Recipients
  • Food For All Services: A nonprofit African grocery store that provides a dignified shopping experience for food-insecure immigrants in the Portland area, giving them access to food from their culture.
  • Growing to Give: An operation that grows organic vegetables to donate to those in need, while also promoting climate-friendly farming methods.
  • Greater Portland Family Promise: A local chapter of a nationwide organization that provides shelter and transitional housing, financial assistance, food and diaper distribution, and more to families in need.
  • Ifka Community Services: An organization dedicated to helping immigrant mothers in Lewiston, Maine, who are new to the country and need assistance navigating life in their new home.
  • Mano en Mano: An organization that supports immigrant and farmworker communities by ensuring they have proper access to governmental services like health care and housing. Mano en Mano also provides leadership development and community engagement resources, and advocates for workers and their families.
  • Oasis Free Clinics: A Brunswick-based medical practice and dental clinic that offers no-cost primary care for uninsured adults in the Midcoast area.
  • Sunlight Media Collective: A news source that publishes stories affecting Wabanaki people, while also highlighting Wabanaki perspectives, helping to remedy a lack of indigenous presence in the media.
  • Tedford Housing: Based in Brunswick, a source for emergency shelter, supportive housing, and homeless preventative services for people without homes. 
  • Youth Led Justice: This organization works with young people who have faced issues with the law, their schools, or community, and supports them through a youth-led restorative justice program. 

Each nonprofit was visited by one or two students who asked questions about their work and how Bowdoin funds would help their missions flourish.

“We have certain processes internally in the group to help guide decision-making, but it’s really up to the students to be keenly reviewing those grants and working together to find a consensus around who they’re going to fund and what meets the priorities they set out in the beginning of the year,” said Sam Cogswell, associate director of the McKeen Center.
CGG ceremony
The grants were awarded at a recent ceremony in Moulton Union. Photo by Paulina Morales ’24.

Cogswell, a Bowdoin alumna from the class of 2011, oversees the CGG program. When she was a student, she actually participated in the CGG twice, one year on the grant committee and one year on the development committee. 

She said her experiences with CGG have shaped her career. “I’m running the program now, so that’s one part of it, but I’ve worked in nonprofits and social impact work, and I think that a lot of the skills I built in the program have influenced the way I’ve thought about my career or made decisions professionally.”

The program launched in 2001 when an anonymous donor committed to contributing $10,000 annually for Bowdoin students to allocate to local agencies. In the years that followed, the Common Good Grant program has distributed over $300,000 in grants to more than 160 nonprofit organizations.

Though the CGG has had many wonderful years, this year seemed to be particularly special, Cogswell said, as the group maintained the same leaders they had last year, Sophia Li ’24 and Kavi Sarna ’25.

“It was the second year the two of them have worked together at the helm as student leaders of the group,” Cogswell said. “I think they had kind of figured out their working rapport and they had a lot of reflections and ideas to share about what had gone well, and how to make sure we were doing the best we could to meet community-identified needs and to connect with donors in the best possible way.”

She also mentioned the strong alumni network that stays involved as donors or who help students through the steps of the CGG’s programming and act as mentors.

“It’s really nice that we have that coaching model,” she said, making it possible for alumni to be involved beyond just making financial contributions to the program. “I’ve been lucky to connect with some of the alumni in the program who have helped me think through various aspects of the curriculum, or the ways we connect with community partners or donors.”