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October 18, 2020

Strive to Thrive Student Blog - Fall 2020

Strive to Thrive Student Blog - Fall 2020
Strive to Thrive Lincoln students participate in a blended remote/in-person format for the fall 2020 semester.
This fall, Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) welcomes something different from its previous eight semesters -- a blended remote/in-person format that has not stopped the enthusiasm of students. 

Leading People and Projects students are challenged to understand philanthropy as individuals and as a group, coordinate efforts across seven department-like teams and navigate intragroup collaboration and organization. This is done through the cornerstone project, Strive to Thrive Lincoln. The fall semester is the ninth time students of the class decide how to invest $10,000 into social enterprises in Lincoln, Nebraska. Strive to Thrive Lincoln, an experience unlike any offered by other courses, is made possible by the generosity of Rhonda Seacrest, the Learning by Giving Foundation and the partnership of the College of Business.

This semester the Strive to Thrive Lincoln Student Blog is managed by the Publicity team. This team is comprised of students Kate Dean a management major from Lincoln, Nebraska; Adrianna Mcking, a Clifton Builders management major, marketing and advertising/public relations major from Omaha, Nebraska; Claire Deetz, business administration and hospitality major from Omaha, Nebraska; Issac Archuletta, a business administration major from Brainard, Nebraska; Kelby Roberts, a marketing and management major from Aurora, Nebraska; Emma Karr, a management and marketing major from Fremont, Nebraska; and Dallis Votava, a design and technical theater major from Lincoln, Nebraska. As a team, students are eager to build connections with and invest in non-profit organizations in the Lincoln community.

10/18/20 - Preparing for Site Visits

Dr. Messersmith helps the class understand the importance of conducting a successful site visit.
Dr. Messersmith helps the class understand the importance of conducting a successful site visit.

This week in MNGT 411 every student had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the importance of our upcoming site visits. Next Monday and Wednesday, all task groups (along with a representative from the site visits group) will have the opportunity to attend two virtual site visits! 

On Monday, the site visit group led the class through a discussion about the most important questions to ask on our visits. As a class, we deemed it essential to get a clear answer on how these NPOs intend to spend our $5,000 grant and ensure their intentions with our grant align with our mission statement. Dr. Messersmith explained that although virtual, this opportunity offers the chance to understand the great impact these organizations have on the community on a more personal level, “You will fall in love and wonder how we will narrow this down to two organizations,” Dr. Messersmith told the class. With proper due diligence and genuine effort to build a strong relationship with our potential grant recipients, as a class, we can make an informed, confident decision.

On Wednesday, the class engaged in a discussion about our goals as a group and individually for the site visit. After reading the articles, The Truth About Site Visits by the Minnesota Council on Foundations and How Grant Makers Can Tune In to What Nonprofits Need Most by Hilary Pennington and Kath Reich, we learned about the perspective of organizations in preparing to host visits. Focusing on cultivating long term relationships is a mutual intent between non-profit organizations and funders. To accomplish this NPOs plan extensively, prepare financials, and ask straightforward questions to the funders. The second article helped us understand the importance of attentively listening during our visits. It went on to emphasize the value of asking questions about financial needs to better understand the obstacles they are facing as an organization.

Site visit group #4 shared their focus heading into next week, “Our main goal for the site visits is to not let our emotion from our heart be subjective to what the organization has to offer and the impact they have on the community,” a group representative continued, “We want to base our research strictly on facts and less on emotions.” 

Next week will we listen to presentations from each group about their experience and insights for the site visits. We anticipate a very difficult deliberation process to narrow down to just two organizations but thanks to due diligence the class is confident in making that tough decision. Check back to see interview reflections about site visit presentations next week!

10/9/20 - In-class Deliberations Narrow the Pool

This week Strive to Thrive narrowed down a pool of 24 non-profit organizations to 12 via review of white papers and in-class deliberations.

The students in MNGT 411 began their productive week Sunday evening. The first step to determine site visits candidates required students to quantify their perceptions of each NPO after reviewing the 24 white papers written by the class. On Monday, Leading People & Projects convened to begin deliberations. First, Clayton of the Class Evaluations team led the data results presentation. More members of Class Evaluation facilitated the discussion of which NPOs to keep on our list. This aspect of deliberations started with discussing the organizations with the lowest ratings. Members of the class rationalized their viewpoints; despite both disagreement and accordance the class remained respectful and many people advocated for their causes and utilized their voices.

As a result of Class Evaluation’s effective facilitation strategy and the focused, intentional efforts of the class, Strive to Thrive determined the 12 organizations that will be met for a virtual site visit. The Site Visits project team will lead the work of meeting with these organizations in the coming weeks. The class will conduct visits with the following NPOs: 

Girls Code Lincoln
Arc of Lincoln
Center for People in Need
Lincoln Lighthouse
Family Service Association
Malone Center
Educare Lincoln
Voices of Hope
Mourning Hope

Following deliberations on Wednesday MNGT 411: Leading People & Projects stepped back from the latter part of its title to focus a bit more on its “People” element. Dr. Amber Messersmith took the class through a self-assessment designed to identify leadership strengths through different phases of a project. This allowed groups better insight between members and opened the opportunity for groups to give recognition to one another. 

Wrapping up this week, Strive to Thrive groups must complete group evaluations and a few articles for class next week.

10/3/20 - Rhonda Seacrest and Shanna O'Berry Visit Virtually

Strive to thrive had an eventful week this week. Students in MNGT 411 welcomed two guest speakers, representing the founders for this project. On Monday, Rhonda Seacrest spoke to students in the Leading Peoples and Projects class, followed by Shanna O’Berry on Wednesday. Outside of watching presentations, the class has continued efforts to identify potential grant recipients. The publicity group thought it best to incorporate specific group updates in weekly blogs following general class updates.


Rhonda Seacrest helps business students navigate the processes of philanthropy.
Rhonda Seacrest helps business students navigate the processes of philanthropy.

On September 28, Rhonda Seacrest virtually visited the MNGT 411 class. Seacrest was born in North Platte, Nebraska, and has spent her life dedicated to being a philanthropist in Nebraska. During her visit with the class, she shared her background, motivations for philanthropy and the most significantly lessons she's learned.  

Seacrest shared that through her support of this class, she hopes students learn to raise their consciousness to disparity, look for ways to improve the human condition in areas of need and consider going into non-profit management. Seacrest described her desire to create equal opportunity for academics, and the arts across Nebraska initially spurred her philanthropic pursuits. “Opportunity in Nebraska diminishes at the end of west O street in Lincoln,” Seacrest asserted. Her passion for philanthropy in Nebraska was made clear, and her words left the class feeling inspired moving forward.

Strive to Thrive Lincoln would not be an existing organization without Rhonda Seacrest’s generous support and funding.  We are gracious of the funding she has provided to our class and look forward to making the best of it.


In addition to Seacrest, Strive to Thrive is funded by the Learning by Giving Foundation. Shanna O’Berry, the director of academics for Learning by Giving, joined the class on September 30th. 

The Learning by Giving (LBG) foundation believes in inspiring and educating the future philanthropists of the world. O’Berry explained that LBG believes in the work they do, and they entrust us to make the right decision. O’Berry went on to explain how the LBG foundation operates with democracy in mind, listening to the voices of many diverse perspectives to make the best funding decisions. O’Berry offered some inspiring information to our class as we discover the continual need for philanthropy in our community, “I hope your heart breaks and your eyes open.” Students in MNGT 411 recognize that $10,000 is not a lot of money, but we hope that this experience inspires us to promote and support philanthropy after the semester ends.

Looking Ahead

Each member of the class has been tasked with reading all 24 white papers and completing a corresponding form to determine which nonprofit organization best suits the requirements of our mission statement. Once every student has filled out these questionnaires, the class evaluation group will be able to sort the data and determine the top contenders for the 2020 Strive to Thrive grant. 

Select Group Updates As of 9/25

These are accomplishments reported by a few of the class groups and presented here.

Class evaluations

“In the past two weeks, all members brainstormed ways on creating the evaluation rubric for the class. Haley, Clayton, Jackson, Tyler, Gabrielle, Nick and Connor decided to keep track of all evaluating records using Google Docs. All group members then put together the rough draft of the evaluation rubric which Haley and Clayton presented to the class for their opinions.”

Applicant Communications

“Trevin K. and Clara D. developed consideration emails for applicants, but the whole group pitched in to let the rest of the class know if their NPO's have accepted the grant process. Nick B. and Clara D. called the remaining NPO's who did not reply to the consideration e-mails. Trevin K., Lucas S., and I (Hallie S.) confirmed the NPO's tax-exempt status.”

Community engagement 

“Carlyn reached out to the 2020 guest recipients for their bios to create introductions for each of them. Clay began coordinating with both Food Fort and CASA on the service projects getting numbers of volunteers, an understanding of the organization, and an in-depth idea of what they are looking for out of us. Clay has also reached out to and prepared an introduction for Shanna O’Berry. George has coordinated with the Belmont community center on the service project that we will complete for them. Jonathan Johnson got in touch with The HUB to coordinate a service project. Carolyn has completed her service project with students: Gracie Pick, Brandon Arkfeld and Haley Solberg. Truan completed the first of three service projects. This one was completed with: Truan Litt, Adri Mcking, Clayton Spray, Cody Klinkacek, and Nick Vetter. Carlyn has worked with her group and completed the intro session of their service project and will proceed next week with 2-3 hours of work each.”

9/25/20 - Meeting Past Grant Awardees

Spring 2020 Strive to Thrive grant recipients, Michaela Akridge of Food Fort and Emily Koopman and Karen French of the Belmont Community Center answer questions posed by MNGT 411 students.
Spring 2020 Strive to Thrive grant recipients, Michaela Akridge of Food Fort and Emily Koopman and Karen French of the Belmont Community Center answer questions posed by MNGT 411 students.

On September 23, the students of Management 411 welcomed representatives from Spring 2020 Strive to Thrive grant winners, Food Fort and Belmont Community Center to the class. Our guest speakers came at a pivotal time in the semester as every member of the class is continually working on identifying and researching nonprofits that align with our mission statement.

Following an introduction by Carlyn Bretey of the community engagement group, Michaela Akridge, founder of Food Fort, and Emily Koopman and Karen French, executive director and assistant director, respectively, of Belmont Community Center made their opening remarks to the class.  

Karen French told our class about the history of the Belmont Community Center (BCC). From its genesis in 1937 to now, the BCC has evolved to serve students and support the surrounding community by offering before/after school programming, renting out their gym to youth sports teams and renting out their facility for other organizations to host meetings. 

Michaela Akridge explained how her organization, Food Fort, capitalizes on using food and mealtimes as an avenue to create relationships with youth in the community. As the founder, Akridge described how her time spent as a Vacation Bible School volunteer showed her the need for fostering relationships with underprivileged children in the Lincoln community. She also stated through adopting her children she had connections to areas most in need. 

The first question that was asked was how each organization used the $5,000 Strive to Thrive Grant.

The representatives of the Belmont Community Center, Emily and Karen, shared that the grant has gone to various activities. The grant has gone to paying for resources and supplies for STEM programming, and to purchasing a projector to maximize the utility of their main room area. The founder of Food Fort, Michaela, having received the grant twice, told the MNGT 411 class the grant has mostly gone to support their giving garden from expansion to supporting the hiring of Food Fort supported local teens to equip them with experience and skills to be prepared for job processes and college.

The class followed up with a few questions about the two non-profit organizations’ experiences overall that led to very eye-opening and heart-warming responses. 

Since last week, students in Leading Peoples and Projects have spent time in pairings working on researching and advocating for NPO candidates. Starting with a list of possible organizations that fit this year’s Strive to Thrive mission, students began preliminary research of the organizations’ scope of impact and primary contacts. After the Applicant Communications Group approved the organization's class pairs then contacted their respective organizations to answer the singular question: “How would you use a $5,000 grant in accordance with the Strive to Thrive Lincoln mission?” With this question answered pairs are now continuing their research and putting together a white paper to present to the class for deliberation. 

Thank you for following along with us throughout our journey to find the next Strive to Thrive grant recipients. Check back next week for more updates and reports from the class. 

9/17/20 - The Mission Statement

On September 16th, following a week of collaborative conversation and deliberation, the MNGT 411 class adopted the following mission statement:

Strive to Thrive Lincoln provides Nebraska Business students in the Management 411 class with the opportunity to grant funds to sustainable organizations that provide equitable and educationally related opportunities to intersectional populations in the Lincoln/Lancaster County community. 

Creating the Mission

The mission defining process began with establishing funding priorities as individuals and then in groups. With the intention to incorporate the perspective of every class member, after discussing individual priorities, all seven groups were responsible for coming up with a mission statement. After presenting each statement, the class determined a list of common encompassing themes. 

  • Sustainability: An organization that is capable of continuing business with or without our contribution.
  • Intersectionality: The organization must be one that looks to address both the results of an issue and compounding, multi-faceted expressions of such issues. Ex: Poverty among LGBT+ Youth; Impoverished Minority students
  • Community
  • COVID-19 and “the ever-changing world”
  • Education
Management 411 students (both in-person and on zoom) discuss potential mission statements. After hearing ideas from each group, Dr. Messersmith made a list of common themes found in our mission statements.
Management 411 students (both in-person and on zoom) discuss potential mission statements. After hearing ideas from each group, Dr. Messersmith made a list of common themes found in our mission statements.

With a narrowed basis of agreement, the class groups reworked their statements to encompass the five mission themes. This direction made second attempts at the mission statement much easier. Again each team shared their approaches and the class deliberated.

Points of Discussion

The world has always been unpredictable and the pandemic we are in has presented itself with an unfamiliar set of challenges during a unique year for our country. No one is ignorant of COVID-19 and its economic implications. Knowing that, as a class, we chose to consider COVID-19 related elements as much as a given as including the terms “non-profit organization”. Omitting this from our mission, the focus shifted to education and intersectionality, which afford a broader approach that will inevitably help a COVID-19 impacted demographic.

With a $5,000 grant, we elected that it be best that our funds are given to a sustainable organization that already has made their mark on the community and will continue to do so after our donation is spent. We want our grant to assist in continuing those amazing efforts in order to give back to the Lincoln/Lancaster County community. 

In order to expand our reach, we decided to change the verbiage from “education” to “educationally related”. This opens the door for us to assist an NPO that supports any type of educational program and not just the school system. For example, afterschool programs, adult/family literacy classes, programs to practice athletics, etc.

Utilizing the polling feature on zoom as well as polling the students in the class, we passed our mission nearly unanimously. With our mission established, we cannot wait to seek out local organizations that align with our mission.

9/11/20 - Learning About Philanthropy

Strive to Thrive Lincoln students take to Zoom for remote project planning and information sharing.
Strive to Thrive Lincoln students take to Zoom for remote project planning and information sharing.

The first weeks of this semester Strive to Thrive students spent time learning the definitions of philanthropy, its roots, benefits and shortcomings. Students were responsible for reading and reflecting on articles and other class materials within the seven groups. After gaining insight into the concept of philanthropy, students had the opportunity to identify their own personal values and narrow it down to their core guiding principles. Following narrowing down individual values, Strive to Thrive students began learning about the importance of administration in non-profit organizations leading to a remote guest speaker presentation.

On September 2, Strive to Thrive Lincoln welcomed Kyle Cartwright via Zoom to provide his insights and advice as students began to determine group priorities to develop ideas for this year’s mission statement that will be used for deciding grant recipients. Cartwright, Executive Director of the Nebraska Cultural Endowment, offered tips on how to read a 990 form, build trust with nonprofits and navigate challenges that may arise during the semester.

After the first presentation class time was devoted to defining intragroup dynamics in each of the seven teams. Students communicated group expectations, identified group strengths, and set standards for dealing with internal conflict. 

With groups better established, Leading Peoples and Projects prepared for the second guest speaker of the year. On September 10, Dr. Stacey Hoffman was invited as the second guest speaker to present to the class the findings of the 2019 Lincoln Vital Signs report. Dr. Hoffman answered many questions about the report and her organization. Dr. Hoffman also left the class with advice for selecting non-profit organizations: consider the longevity of the investment. 

The first few weeks have passed quickly in Leading Peoples and Projects. Time was spent defining philanthropy, group expectations and learning from Community Members. Looking forward to next week, Strive to Thrive Lincoln will have defined this semester’s mission and continue our efforts to find worthy organizations.

We look forward to a challenging yet rewarding semester.  

Follow along with Management 411 students throughout the semester with our weekly blogs, which will provide progress reports, photos, and recaps of class activities and visitors.