UC Merced Update

Alumni-Founded GiveVote Foundation Makes First Grant


GiveVote membersThe GiveVote Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit started by a group of UC Merced alumni who were inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2009 commencement address, is making strides forward, having awarded its first grant and obtained 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit status in the past year.

GiveVote’s nonprofit standing means it’s officially registered as a charitable organization with the federal government, and contributions to the foundation are tax deductible. Also last year, GiveVote awarded its first grant to the campus' emergency fund for students.

More than half of the UC Merced student population consists of low-income, first-generation students, and those students sometimes find themselves in emergency situations with no assistance available. The UC Merced Student Emergency Grant Program offers them the means to stay in school when a crisis arises.

GiveVote donors, many of whom were college students themselves just a year or two ago, chose to help fund that program.

“The best thing about the GiveVote program is that donors have all the say in how our charitable funds can be granted out,” said Yaasha Sabba, former ASUCM president and GiveVote leader.

Each step forward for GiveVote has obstacles, Sabba said. But these are the same founding Bobcats whose original classes were held in library stacks and student housing multipurpose rooms, and they know how to solve problems using the tools at hand — such as using Google Docs and Skype to conduct foundation business.

“Getting people together to discuss foundation business was the ultimate challenge,” Sabba said. “Everyone now lives in different parts of California or has begun grad school in other states.

“We believe that keeping everyone connected with each other will build the best philanthropy with a long-lasting impact.”

Many foundation organizers worked on the “Dear Michelle” campaign to bring Obama to UC Merced in 2009. During the summer after they graduated, they worked hard to build and strengthen GiveVote, because they knew the following few years would keep them all busy with jobs and graduate school. With the new grant and nonprofit status, that hard work is bearing fruit.

Sabba said the group’s UC Merced experiences have been not just inspirational, but invaluable.

“Many of us had already had the privilege and experience of creating our own organizations,” he said. “You learn the most when you get more than just your feet wet.”