iLabs and Ford Community Corps

May 25, 2015

iLabs faculty and students have worked on multiple phases of a project ​in partnership with the Ford Community Corps with a goal to engage UM-Dearborn students and local nonprofit organizations to ​provide data-driven solutions to challenge faced by ​nonprofits in Metro-Detroit.

Over the past several years, iLabs faculty and students have worked on multiple phases of a project ​in partnership with the Ford Community Corps with a goal to engage UM-Dearborn students and local nonprofit organizations to ​leverage University talent to ​provide data-driven solutions to challenges faced by ​nonprofits in Metro-Detroit.

Over the course of this project, over 60 students, over 10 faculty members, and 89​ ​​NPOs​ were engaged in various phases ​led by iLabs. iLabs was also excited to host the first ever Nonprofit Opportunity Challenge in August 2015.

PHASE I: Surveying Non-profit Communities

As a pilot phase, UM-Dearborn faculty and students worked with NPO’s to identify their needs and how regional resources could be developed to support capacity building in this sector. Four faculty and Four students engaged with 89 NPOs through surveys and focus groups. 

During this pilot phase for the program, the Ford Motor Company Fund provided support for the University of Michigan-Dearborn to engage University resources in the non-profit sector. 4 faculty and 4 students engaged with 89 non-profits through focus groups and surveys to understand their needs and how regional resources could be developed to support capacity building in this sector. 

The key findings of the research were that non-profits would welcome support in three areas:
1. Funding support
2. Operational and performance measurement
3. Reputation management and marketing tools

More information on the background and results of this phase can be found here.

Based on these initial findings, this project has grown into an opportunity for non-profit organizations in metro-Detroit to utilize the student talent at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The students will work with non-profits to explore ways to measure and promote their efforts to funders and regional stakeholders. Students work closely with NPO’s and, behind the scenes, with UM-Dearborn faculty to collect mission units and conversational data regarding NPO performance with the goal to improve NPO performance measurement strategies and discussions about organization-level successes.

PHASE II: Data Driven Decision Making

With the primary goal of creating a database for nonprofits, 6 students and 5 faculty members worked with 15 NPOs to collect data for the purposes of creating business intelligence dashboards to benchmark nonprofit operations.

After the success of PHASE 1 of this project, a new phase was developed to practically advance non-profits' (NPOs') current data-driven decision making capacity by developing a database for NPOs. 6 students and 5 faculty members engaged with 15 NPOs through one-on-one meetings to collect relevant data from the NPOs as well as gather primary and secondary data to populate the database. The data would be analyzed and marketing reports would be created to inform future business decisions within the organization. Through this phase, students and faculty soon found that it was difficult to attain the data that they needed, as the NPOs haven't been recording it. Because of this the database and marketing reports were lacking the data they needed.

The outcome of this phase taught us that while non-profits could benefit from data analysis to help them make decisions, they could benefit even further from implementing good practices in data collection. Because it was hard to gather concise data from non-profits, a new approach was introduced that students and faculty should focus on providing NPOs with resources to encourage them to collect relevant data to inform their future decision-making. 

This approach was implemented in the PHASE 3 of the project.

PHASE III: Expanding Student Engagement

This current phase focuses on developing strategies to help local nonprofits build program and/or operational capacity and develop sustainable data-driven decision making practices at a program and/or organization-level. This is done by engaging students and faculty in Academic Service Learning (ASL) courses and a separate iLabs team in student-led projects to support local organizations. Faculty, students, and iLabs researchers work with NPO’s to identify actionable projects and work to complete such projects over the course of one term (15 weeks). 

The primary goal of this program is to support faculty and students interested in academic service learning projects to meet the needs of local nonprofits in metropolitan Detroit. Students work with nonprofits over the course of one semester to help solve their business problems. These projects are embedded in the academic curriculum, and at the end of the semester, students present their findings and recommendations to their nonprofit partners. 

In 2015, five faculty members, over 50 students, and the six nonprofits listed below worked collaboratively on projects:


Additional Information

Here is an example of the work a team of iLabs students completed for the Gleaners Mercado Food Hub in Southwest Detroit:

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