Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Making Choices with Scarce Resources: Penny Drive
Lesson 1
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


Learners will use economic thinking to determine how to allocate their scarce resources for community service.



One Fifty-Minute Class Period


The learner will:

  • describe how scarcity forces consumers and producers to make choices for allocating their resources.
  • give examples of opportunity costs and tradeoffs that accompany decisions on the use of scarce resources.
  • use cost/benefit analysis to select a recipient of collected funds.
  • evaluate the impact of philanthropic service on the common good of the community.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.
  • Learners will make a decision, considering the costs and benefits to themselves and the community, as to who they will recommend as the recipients of their fundraising donations.
  • The class may hold a penny drive to raise money for a chosen cause. To hold the competition, each class or team competes against all others. Each team has a jar in a central location labeled with the team name and the charity they are raising money for. The idea is to earn the most money for your class or grade. In a penny war, teams try to collect the most pennies, and silver coins count against their total. This creates a competition where other teams try to sabotage the other teams by adding silver coins or dollar bills to the competitors' jars. The value of the coins count against the total, so a quarter subtracts 25 points from a jar of pennies. You can have two winners: one winner is the team that has the most points and another winner collects the highest monetary value.


  • Attachment One: Vocabulary
  • Group copies of Attachment Two: Potential Recipients
Handout 1
Handout 2
Potential Recipients

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Ask the learners to each identify three ways that they might spend $25.00 that they just received from a relative for their birthday and write these options on a piece of paper.  Ask for volunteers to share their three options and encourage them to share how they would go about making a decision when these three possibilities exist for them.  Would all learners decide the same way or would some learners select a different decision making strategy?  Explain that decisions are made based on individual choices and anticipated consequences.  Not everyone values or sees the options in the same way.


  • Using Attachment One: Vocabulary, define scarcity, resource, tradeoff and opportunity cost.  Let the learners give examples of each. 

  • Remind the students that some of the ways responsible citizens help to provide for the common good is to give of their time, talent, and treasure and that these actions are considered to be philanthropic activities.

  • Share with the students that the Penny Drive in which they are about to take part is considered to be a philanthropic activity and in many ways this philanthropic activity, like all philanthropic activities, involves decision-making about who will be the recipient(s) of the money raised.  In today's lesson they will simulate a decision making process for donating funds to alleviate a community need.

  • Divide the learners into groups of three or four. Give each group copies of three potential “fictitious” scenarios of need for funds (Attachment Two) or use a teacher created list of three scenarios of actual need in the community.  Explain that choices involve trading off the expected value of one opportunity against the expected value of its best alternative.  When we make a tradeoff, something may be given up and something may be gained.  Satisfaction for a tradeoff can be measured against the gain of something else.

  • Instruct the learners to read about each of the possible recipients, discuss them in their group, and decide, as a group, which of the three possibilities, by consensus, they would fund, giving consideration to the issues of scarcity, available resources, tradeoff, and opportunity cost.

  • Reconvene the total group and ask someone from each group to share their group’s decision for funding and some of the reasons why they made the decision they did using the terms of scarcity, available resources, tradeoff, and opportunity cost.

  • After each group has shared, open up discussion with the following questions.

    • Was this an easy decision for your group to reach? Why? Or Why Not?
    • Did everyone select the same recipient? Why or Why Not?
    • Did everyone who might have selected the same recipient do so for the same reasons? Why? Or Why Not?

  • Instruct the learners to return to their original groups.   Ask each group to make a brief presentation of their ideas with the intent of lobbying/advocating for the students to vote in favor of their proposed recipient.

  • Have the learners vote for the recipient of the funds, the only rule being that they cannot vote for their own group’s recommendation.


The learners involvement in the small group discussions and the seriousness and depth of his/her thinking and sharing will serve as an assessment of learning.

Learning Link(s): (click to view)

School/Home Connection:

  • Interactive Parent / Student Homework:

    The learners can interview family members for their ideas as to who might best be served as a recipient(s) of the proceeds from the Penny Drive and compare their family’s decision-making process with that described, discussed and used during the classroom decision-making process.

Reflection: (click to view)

Lesson Developed By:

Dennis VanHaitsma
Curriculum Consultant
Learning to Give


Handout 1Print Handout 1


Economic resources are limited, that is, there is not enough of any commodity to go around.  As a result, some people must do without them.

Economic Resource (economic goods):
Land, labor or capital (money) which is used to produce other goods.

Giving up one goal in order to achieve another goal.

Opportunity cost:
The cost of giving up one choice in order to select another choice.

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Potential Recipients

Recipient Number One:
A plea has gone out to your community for funds to keep the local Humane Society Open.  The increasing cost of gasoline and items such as straw, sawdust, kitty litter and dog food, and the decline in the number of volunteers help clean the cages and feed the animals, has caused a budget shortage.  It appears that unless additional funding sources are made available, the Humane Society will close in June of this year.


Recipient Number Two:
Funds for team uniforms in your school are almost non-existent.  Parent groups and Athletic Team Boosters have spent all the funds they have raised to install a new scoreboard in the gymnasium, new equipment for the track and field team, and a new backstop for the boys baseball and girls softball fields.  It is apparent that the Board of Education will soon decide that if a student wishes to participate in the school’s athletic program, they will have to purchase their own uniforms.  Many of the coaches know that there will be some students who will not be able to afford buying their own uniform and consequently are concerned that will either not join a team or they will have to quit after the Boards ruling.


Recipient Number Three:
April Johnstone, an 11th grader in our school, and her family (which includes her mom and two younger brothers), experienced a tragic fire in their home in which they lost almost all of their possessions.  The local faith based organization is helping, as is the local Fire Department, to raise funds to restore some of the possessions the Johnstone’s lost in the blaze.  Fortunately, it appears that they were able to find temporary housing with a family member who also lives in the community, but money to buy basic supplies is very scarce.  Today the local newspaper reported that it is placing collection containers in local businesses to collect funds to help the Johnstones.

Philanthropy Framework:

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Unit Contents:

Overview:Making Choices with Scarce Resources: Penny Drive Summary


Making Choices with Scarce Resources: Penny Drive

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