by Pamela Young, Published March 03, 2014
YPSILANTI – College students are usually on the receiving end for funds, often to help them get through school. Now, a group of Eastern Michigan University students, called the Student Funders Group, is on the giving end.
The nine students, all volunteers from EMU’s Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA) program, will be awarding a $5,000 grant this year to an area nonprofit organization and gain new skills at the same time.
The NLA is a national program that prepares students for successful careers that involve giving back to the community. Open to all students, participants can earn the nationally recognized Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) accreditation after completing the program.
More than 75 percent of the students in Eastern’s program want to start their own nonprofit, says Claudia Petrescu, program director.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to start a nonprofit’ in the future or to experience how hard it is to compete for funding in order to support a good cause,” she said. “These students are motivated and want to work in the community, but often lack the necessary practical experience, such as grant writing or proper budgeting, to be successful. We provide them with different opportunities, such as mentorships, training and internships to gain hands-on experience before graduation.”
The Student Funders Group takes that preparation one step farther. The students first do research to understand the needs of the community, which geographical area has the highest needs addressed by nonprofits, then write a request for proposals (RFP).
Petrescu says, “This RFP is practically asking nonprofits to apply for the money provided by the Student Funders Group through proposals that address the community needs they identified.”
This year, the students target nonprofits in Washtenaw and Wayne Counties and will award the $5,000 grant to one organization for capacity building.
The 2014 request for proposal (RFP) has been sent to more than 250 organizations and applications are due March 14. Once the proposals are returned, the group will work with an evaluation document they developed to select the organization that will receive the grant.
Students learn to take a hard look at the realities of applying for grants. That means writing a grant, evaluating requests for proposals, having an accurate budget, determining how the grant should be used, and tracking results. For example, in last year’s funding round, one RFP contained the necessary information needed except for the proposed budget. Without that information, the nonprofit took itself out of the running.
Petrescu challenges the students to justify their decisions to fund a specific need or a specific organization.
“I help them look at the bigger picture,” Petrescu said. “Everyone has a voice and participates in the decision.”
This year’s grant will be awarded to one organization for programs building internal capacity such as the ability to produce quantified results or marketing, fundraising and training directed to diversity programming.
Daryl Holman Jr., a senior from Kalamazoo, describes The Funders Group as icing on the nonprofit education cake.
“After you have studied the aspects of the nonprofit sector, you are now given the chance to polish grant writing skills by seeing the level other professionals in the sector are at, as well as identifying strong points in their work,” Holman said.
“We also become familiar with many small nonprofits we’ve yet to encounter, and through this introduction we’re able to see their strengths and weakness in terms of organizational development. You get a hands-on experience dealing with real money to put behind your name before you graduate.”
Petrescu says, “There is so much need out there. This is an instrument to help fund a need. They also look at how likely an organization is going to survive if they don’t know how to write a proposal. I’m hoping students get the picture as to how a nonprofit has to survive.”
EMU’s NLA started the Funders Group, a student group, in 2011 with a $5,000 grant from the Women in Philanthropy Group at EMU. The goal was to strengthen the local community while training a future nonprofit workforce. That first year, the students awarded $500 each to ten organizations for capacity building projects.
Thanks to EMU alumnus George Cogar and the NLA program, the 2012 student group awarded grants of $1,000 each to six organizations for executive training projects. In 2013, the group provided seven $1,000 grants for sustainability projects, thanks to support from THI Group of Ann Arbor, the EMU Student Government and the NLA program.
“These are the types of opportunities you hope to see more of, because it gives Eastern Michigan students the competitive edge in the job market that everyone seeks when selecting a college or university,” Holman said.
For more on the Students Funders Group, visit http://www.emich.edu/nonprofit/programs/funders_group.php or contact the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at 734.487.1612 or at firstname.lastname@example.org