Damus Board 2021-22.
Julie Reiter/University of St. Thomas

Gaining Philanthropy Experience Through the Damus Board

Four local nonprofits working toward racial justice were awarded a total of $50,000 this spring by the Damus Board, a group of eight St. Thomas Opus College of Business students empowered to grant funds to organizations of their choice.

Students, staff, alumni and community members gathered on April 21 to celebrate those winning nonprofits and the work of the Damus Board. The event marked the culmination of a yearlong program. Since last fall, the students on the board have been collaborating to create a grant application, determine criteria to evaluate organizations, visit and interview the finalists, and select the final awardees.

“It has allowed me to better understand the complexity of perspectives and backgrounds that people bring into big decisions,” said one student Damus Board member. “It allowed me to become a better listener, a more thoughtful leader and a more considerate facilitator.”

Out of over 50 applicant organizations, the nonprofits awarded this year were EdAllies, The Legal Revolution, The Family Partnership, and Women's Initiative for Self Empowerment.

Clara Radloff '22 (r) presented the Damus Award to Lorena Nevile, vice president of programs at The Family Partnership, at an event on April 21. (Jamie Tjornehoj '22/University of St. Thomas)

“We were inspired and energized working with the students of the Damus Board, who approached this process with thoughtful questions, curiosity, and a clear vision of how they wanted to make a difference in our communities,” said Rae Wood of The Family Partnership. “We were blown away by their professionalism, organization and passion, and we felt so invigorated to be able to share our work with such compassionate and insightful students.”

Elizer Darris, board chair of The Legal Revolution, accepted the award on behalf of his organization. “Receiving the Damus Award will allow us to continue supporting our clients and serves as social proof that the time for change is now and the energy to change is here.”

The students on the board channeled their energy into learning about racial injustice in our communities. They invited Dr. Yohuru Williams to talk with them about the history of racism in the Twin Cities, and learned from a panel of professional grant-makers about important considerations when funding organizations working on racial equity issues. “I’ve become much more passionate about racial equity,” commented one board member, “and despite knowing there’s still so much to do, it gives me hope that there are regular people out there in our community collectively working toward this goal and that anyone can pitch in and make a difference.”

The Damus Board was born in 2009 when Jackie Gibney sold the university on her idea to give students an opportunity to practice philanthropy, and learn about themselves and their passions through the process. Gibney has been funding the program every year since that time. This year, the board received additional contributions from a second donor, who was inspired to give after hearing about the board’s work, and from the family of a Damus Board alumnus, Nicholas Hughes, because of the positive impactful experience he had serving on the board.

Indeed, alumni frequently call out the Damus Board experience as the best experience they had at St. Thomas. “The Damus Board is truly such a rare opportunity and a beautiful gift to anyone lucky enough to be a part of it,” said a current Damus Board member. “I am beyond grateful to have made lifelong friendships with fellow board members and to share in the gift of giving to nonprofits doing profound work in our communities.”

Students, staff, alumni and community members gathered on April 21 to celebrate those winning nonprofits and the work of the Damus Board. (Jamie Tjornehoj '22/University of St. Thomas)

The four Damus Award winners for 2022 are:

  • EdAllies, advancing policies that put underserved students first and removing barriers to creating successful schools and educational programs
  • The Legal Revolution, fostering a prison-to-law pipeline by facilitating paralegal and legal degrees for currently incarcerated scholars
  • The Family Partnership, disrupting intergenerational cycles of poverty, adversity, and trauma to close opportunity and achievement gaps
  • Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment, serving immigrant and refugee women and girls in education and leadership development

The 2021-22 Damus Board members are:

  • Isaiah Allen ’23
  • Luca Arcuria ’22
  • Mesum Haider ’22
  • Mallory Helget ’22
  • Shanker Mallikarjunan ’24
  • Natalia Nguyen ’23
  • Clara Radloff ’22
  • Emma Schiltz ’22