Warren Buffett, Sister to Guide MOOC on Philanthropy

Since their explosion in popularity over the last 2 years, massive online open courses (MOOCs) have covered topics from technology to philosophy — but a class in giving? That will be a first.

Starting this week, students will be able to not only hear about effective philanthropy from experts like Warren Buffett, but they will also get an opportunity to decide how best to distribute $100,000 in charity funds donated by his sister Doris.

The Buffetts won't be the only ones to share their wisdom on charity with the 4,000 students who have already signed up. Also offering tips over the course of 6 lectures will be Cal Ripken Jr., Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, founders of the ice cream empire Ben & Jerry's, as well as journalist Soledad O'Brien and chairman of the Boston Red Sox Tom Werner.

Buffett and his older sister, Doris Buffett, will be featured in the first class to talk about their motivation for philanthropy. Warren Buffett is gradually giving away all of his $58 billion Berkshire Hathaway stock while Doris Buffett has already given more than $150 million away en route to her goal of redistributing all her wealth before she dies.

‘‘The trick is not to have her give it away faster than I make it,'' Warren Buffett joked because his family's wealth is tied to the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate he runs.

Josh Funk of the Associated Press reports that although the six lectures will provide a closer look at different aspects of philanthropy, what sets the course apart is the experience in real world giving that the class will offer its students. Rebecca Riccio, a professor at Northeastern University who will oversee the course, explains that this will give students a real insight into the decisions that go into allocating charitable funds.

The Giving With Purpose online course is modeled after a class that has been taught at more than 30 universities that allows students to give away $10,000 after evaluating several nonprofits and learning about effective giving. This online offering allowed Doris Buffett's Sunshine Lady foundation to expand the classes without adding staff to manage the program.

‘‘Giving With Purpose allows us to extend the classroom walls to include any individual passionate about philanthropy,'' Doris Buffett said in a statement. ‘‘There are thousands of people with the energy and ideas to make a difference.''

Having the will and the means to give are only the first steps, according to Riccio. The course is necessary to make sure students understand how to get the most bang out of their charitable buck. As Riccio explains it, the class will teach students the difference between giving with your heart and giving with your head.

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