Fundraising course: ‘A lesson in failures’

Megan Nicolai

A group of 13 University of Minnesota students are exchanging homework for charity work.

Students Impacting Communities is an independent nonprofit. But all of the work and planning is done as part of a year-long course âÄî Practicum in Nonprofit Organizations.

Throughout the course, students set up the organization and develop fundraising projects to raise money for local charities like the Salvation Army.

Roy Gaddey, the professor who designed and runs the course, said it stands apart from many other practical experience opportunities for students.

âÄúStudents get to jump around âÄî they may be a project manager at one point and be doing grunt work or working on our website at another,âÄù Gaddey said.

Maddie Hayes, a senior at the University, said she joined the course for that exact reason. She said the experience she gained will be a good boost in a future job hunt.

âÄúWe can already say we know how to do this and this.âÄù

Kwame Annorbah-Sarpei, whose father owns a nonprofit in Africa, hopes his experiences in the practicum can help him join his fatherâÄôs business and open its doors to international students.

The course first opened for enrollment last semester. Students had to apply with a cover letter, résumé and, for some, completing an interview with Gaddey.

âÄúWeâÄôre not just looking at a studentâÄôs GPA, weâÄôre looking at special skills or activities outside of class,âÄù Gaddey said. âÄúItâÄôs a lot like a real job interview.âÄù

But the class doesnâÄôt abandon academics. Students get reading assignments on business development and nonprofit work. Much of the theory is taught in the first semester, Gaddey said.

Students donâÄôt work with the nonprofit every day. The staff meeting, normally a daily occurrence in the working world, is once a week.

Building an organization from the ground up hasnâÄôt been easy, however, said senior Dan Swendsen. He called the course âÄúa lesson in failures.âÄù

Swendsen said the students ran into a lot of roadblocks and red tape. The class originally set a goal to raise $200,000, but it was later dropped down, though they have yet to set a new figure.

One major hurdle emerged last spring âÄî coming together with the cash to get started. Gaddey said not enough supporters knew about the class.

Several projects were left behind during the summer due to reduced class meetings, leaving little time to plan fundraising events.

A screening of Avatar at the Midway Stadium in St. Paul on Sept. 24 was also dropped as students were unable to give stadium officials a definite number of attendees for the event.

But the failure was an important experience for students, Gaddey said. âÄúWeâÄôre learning as much from the failures as the successes.âÄù

The hurdles did bring up discussion of possible changes to the course. Gaddey and his colleagues are debating whether to break the course into two semesters, which would force students to learn the theory of building a nonprofit and to organizing fundraising.

âÄúI think it would be hard to get into the flow of things in a semester,âÄù Swendsen said. âÄúI think you need a full year.âÄù

But student interest in the course has been high since the first batch of students began.

âÄúI think weâÄôll have a lot more people applying for it next time,âÄù Gaddey said.

Despite a shaky beginning, Gaddey sees a bright future. Since the spring, many companies have approached him about funding the course, and many alumni of the University are reaching out.

âÄúWeâÄôre getting good relationships with local charities, with local corporations,âÄù Gaddey said. âÄúWeâÄôre getting more and more sponsors.âÄù