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Every Dollar Counts

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mason Stark '16 (left) and John Burnam '10 collaborate using Trinity's library resources.

A.L.E. intern Mason Stark examines the ethics of philanthropy at John Burnam Consulting

by Carlos Anchondo '14

Every time someone contemplates a charitable donation, they have a choice. When selecting a foundation to give their money, they might consider personal connections with the organization, how their money will be used, or even which charity will be able to make the maximum impact with their gift.

For Mason Stark ’16, it is a question of utilitarian terms.

“A lot of times you donate to what you are interested in or have an emotional connection to, not always where your gift will have the greatest impact,” Stark says. “People are going to argue the interest vs. impact debate forever. Philosophy allows one to grow more comfortable with dealing with complicated and seemingly unanswerable questions.”

As an intern at John Burnam Consulting, Stark applies his philosophy major to his work at the nonprofit consulting firm. Stark’s internship with alumnus John Burnam ’10 is funded through the arts, letters, and enterprise (A.L.E.) internship program at Trinity University. A writer, editor, and consultant, Burnam collaborates with area nonprofits such as the Big Give SA, the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation, Xenex, and the San Antonio Christian Dental Clinic, among others.

At the moment, Stark and Burnam are compiling a master grant database of local foundations for the San Antonio Non Profit Council. The database categorizes the foundations by sector, allows nonprofits to see how various foundations are allocating their money, and provides application instructions as well. The database also links to the foundations’ GuideStar pages, which connects donors and grant makers to nonprofit organizations.

In addition to the database, Stark is also helping Burnam, a one-man team, assess data from this year’s Big Give, a 24-hour day of giving to raise money for local nonprofits. Stark is conducting interviews with nonprofits who saw a substantial increase in donations and donors to determine what might have caused the surges.

Reaching out to these organizations, Stark has learned to move past his fear of placing cold calls. He says this internship has taught him the value of reaching out to others for help, experiencing this firsthand when he was deciding on the best structure for the database. Stark even connected with members of the grant research department at Trinity who proved to be “extremely helpful.”

“Returning to school, I will be less intimidated by the process of reaching out to people and the network and community of Trinity, because it really is an incredibly valuable resource,” Stark says. “In such a small, tight-knit community, people are always ready and able to help.”

Stark notes that the critical thinking and writing skills he has developed as a philosophy major have been beneficial to him as a Burnam intern. He says that he pursued his major not with a set vocation in mind, but because the material interests him.

No office location for John Burnam Consulting means that Stark is on a nomadic move between coffee shop brainstorming sessions, meetings with clients, and independent research. Interning in the nonprofit sector, Stark says he’s met some “genuinely caring people” from organizations that are doing amazing things to improve the lives of San Antonians.

Stark, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is one of four A.L.E. interns who received internship funding and is mentored by a Trinity faculty member as their A.L.E. liaison. In the fall, Stark will continue his internship with John Burnam Consulting and he looks forward to seeing the completion of the database.

For a philosophy major who is fighting the stigma of “having his head in the clouds,” Starks calls the A.L.E. internship program an excellent opportunity to learn about the business world. He encourages other humanities majors to reach out to potential internship possibilities and to trust the “analytic toolkit” honed by Trinity.

“Do not be afraid to put yourself out there and trust in your liberal arts education,” Stark says. “It serves a purpose beyond academics and is applicable to the real world.”

Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for marketing communications and a 2014 Trinity graduate. He can be found on Twitter at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.