A profitable experience: Students, nonprofits partner in campus event

October 5, 2015

Students, nonprofits partnered together this summer to tackle issues facing southeast Michigan's nonprofit organizations.

Sherita Smith (’13, M.P.A.) advised a group of students on their solution during the Nonprofit Opportunity Challenge. Smith, a development director for the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation served as a mentor for the challenge.

Nonprofit organizations employ one in 10 Michigan workers. Nationally, nonprofits make up nearly 10 percent of wages and salaries paid in the U.S. And they get a lot of people involved—more than 25 percent of Americans over the age of 16 volunteer.

“Nonprofits do so much and there is a lot of opportunity in the industry,” said senior Jennah Jodoin. “It’s important to showcase that and help students make connections with people in that industry.”

So for four days, 40 students took part in The Nonprofit Opportunity Challenge, which Jodoin helped organize.

A collaborative new event sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund’s Community Corps program and organized by iLabs and the College of Business, the challenge engaged students and members in the nonprofit community to think creatively and provide viable solutions, while the students gained networking and entrepreneurial experience. Nonprofits involved included Mercado Food Hub and An Amazing Woman Foundation.

While at the challenge, students tackled the issues—such as distribution logistics, revenue generations and branding—with guidance from nonprofit community members, many of whom were alumni.

“I’m absolutely inspired by the students here. I love the enthusiasm; I love the fact that they have a real desire to address the social issues and look for a concrete way to solve the challenges that are out there,” said Chris Nemeth (’80 B.A), an NPO mentor and president of Hopeful Harvest. “Social enterprise is a very important segment of business and it’s growing very rapidly. The focus on triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—is absolutely critical today. This event gives a great business experience for students and helps the community.”

Tim Davis, director of iLabs, said students worked in groups to prepare for the final presentations. He said the students had many different educational backgrounds—engineering, philosophy, communication and business to name a few.

“When you have a team with different areas of interest and expertise, you bring so much more to the table,” he said. “This challenge lets students jump in and take a portion of the problem, do what they know how to do best and collaborate with those in their group who have different strengths. When that happens, you get the most innovative solutions.”

Jodoin said one group came up with a social media plan for An Amazing Woman, complete with the free apps to use, a website critique, and a communication strategy that spanned a calendar year.

“Many of the students are going to help implement these things as well,” Jodoin said. “It’s an additional resource for the nonprofits and an experience for students.”

The challenge had several prizes, including cash awards and restaurant gift cards, but the real reward was the experience of making connections and getting a glimpse into the nonprofit industry.

Jodoin said everyone, from the COB Board of Advisers to recent graduates, helped the students get experiential value.

“We were able to experience working on real problems while expanding our networks, and we were supported every step of the way,” she said. “We came up with our best ideas while learning from the best. When that happens, everyone benefits.”

Back to top of page