$5K Sillerman Prize for Innovations in Philanthropy awarded to Darnell Wilson of Northern Kentucky University

May 03, 2012

Waltham, MA-- A junior at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) took the third annual Sillerman Prize for Innovations in Philanthropy on College Campuses this year. Darnell Wilson conceived of “Norse in Need” as a means to boost student retention by helping fellow students in need of emergency aid. The fund, which will be developed through small student donations, is designed to supply mini-grants of up to $250 to help students facing a possible disruption of studies. The student-managed project casts a wide net for student contributions as small as $5.00 to build up the stock of resources that supply this pool of emergency aid which will be used to get a student over a hump.

In Wilson’s oral presentation to the Prize judges (twelve philanthropists and higher education professionals) at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, he made a bold statement that he wanted NKU to be known as the “philanthropy school,” earning the reputation directly from the  generosity of its students. While other schools may be known for their athletic prowess or other attributes, Wilson's plan proposed an NKU stake in the ground for philanthropy.

Wilson’s dynamic presentation and grass-roots approach resonated with the judges who reviewed four finalist applications of the twenty submissions from around the country. Other applicants (from Denison University in Ohio and New York University) proposed creative and innovative projects as well, but Wilson’s enthusiastic commentary on how most student philanthropy models are designed without a way for the students learning about philanthropy to have skin in the game, through personal sacrifice, won the day.

Courses that teach philanthropy, even experiential courses with a giving component, use other people’s money and so the experience is still “one off,” Wilson said in his winning submission. And of course, "Norse in Need" incorporates the latest technologies and social media to create a simple process that can involve all students at NKU through events, a mobile phone application, and honoring fellow students through one’s own donation.

Sillerman Center Associate Director Claudia Jacobs, who coordinates the prize each year, said “Darnell’s folksy authentic approach, with PowerPoint slides using the Kentucky Derby Pie as his theme, captured the hearts of the judges who each agreed with his approach of democratizing philanthropy on the NKU campus—and his tale of transporting a Kentucky Derby pie through airport security brought smiles to judges and other prize contestants alike.”

NKU is a private school of 15,000 students located in Kentucky, seven miles southeast of Cincinnati. Norse is the University symbol.

The Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy sponsors this prize annually to motivate college and graduate students around the U.S. to think more deeply and creatively about how to incorporate philanthropic values into campus life. The Prize award is a no-strings-attached $5,000 to the winner. The 2011 award was won by a team of Babson College students for their “Piglet Project,” supplying freshmen with piggy banks where they saved coins to donate for Babson student scholarships.

The 2013 competition will be announced in the fall on sillermancenter.brandeis.edu.