College of Business junior Mary Morton wanted to help others in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Lancaster County in the most impactful way possible. Although she already worked with nonprofit organizations in the past, a course called Strive to Thrive Lincoln taught her the grant funding process and how to award funds to the most deserving applicants.
Through gifts from Rhonda Seacrest and the Learning by Giving Foundation, students in the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) class at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln allotted $5,000 each to two local nonprofits – The Bay and City Impact. Morton, a management major from Waverly, Nebraska, believes the experience gives her and fellow students the ability to challenge themselves to give back effectively in their future careers.
“Our class mission was to bring long-term stability to children and families in need through enrichment and educational opportunities,” Morton said. “We wanted to give $10,000 to every nonprofit that applied, but we had to look objectively at who fit our mission best. I advocated for The Bay because they provide an environment where kids come in and get opportunities through a skills lab to learn about computer design and mixing music that’s not necessarily taught in schools.”
Morton explained how the grant money reduces costs for families in need. She believes class lecturer Dr. Amber Messersmith’s leadership laid the groundwork for learning the philanthropic process. Students managed the process from the call for proposals all the way through the final celebration of winning applicants at a ceremony in the Howard L. Hawks Hall Henrickson Family Atrium.
“Dr. Messersmith is the driving force behind our class because she not only makes the process engaging, but pushes us to do our best. She reminds us to think thoughtfully about what we’re doing each step of the way, because in the end, what we’re doing matters to the community,” she said.
Messersmith talked about the strength of Lincoln’s nonprofit community. She sees it inspire students every semester.
“We received 31 applications for our grants this semester,” said Messersmith. “We wouldn’t be able to have this meaningful process without their support and enthusiasm, which helps the students learn so much about our community. Back on the first day of class, it was hard for our students to grasp what I was talking about. Some students went from having very little knowledge about the nonprofit community to now understanding what more than 30 nonprofits do to make our community better.”
Andrew Norman, executive director at The Bay, talked about how grant funds allow his organization to sustain educational opportunities in their facility, which is located in a neighborhood with 40 percent poverty compared to 13 percent city-wide. It includes a skate park for youth who may not be competing in traditional athletics.
“This project gives us a great opportunity to get Nebraska students into The Bay to see what we do and why it matters,” said Norman. “There’s a lot of us who work at The Bay who never thought we’d end up working at a nonprofit. Now these students see those jobs exist, and if you find something you really love, you can do it for the public good.”
Morton, who has worked for both the Lied Center for Performing Arts and the Arbor Day Foundation, wants to pursue a nonprofit career going forward. For the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project, she worked on an external engagement team, which was part of the public-facing side between the class and the community. Part of their work extended beyond the grant application as they helped raise money through Venmo, an online payment system, for Educare Lincoln.
“We raised more than a thousand dollars for Educare Lincoln,” Morton said. “I met and got assistance from Dean Kathy Farrell, Linda Moody from the Center for Civic Engagement and Kim Smith in the college’s Communications, Marketing and External Relations office to create marketing materials. Then I met with several professors to speak in their classes. There were a lot of moving parts done outside class which provided additional learning experiences alongside the grant funding process.”
In addition to learning the grant application process and fundraising efforts, students also participated in service projects. Organizations helped through student volunteer efforts this semester included Meals on Wheels, Heartland Cancer Foundation, People’s City Mission, the Malone Center, Safe Quarters and the Nebraska Community Blood Bank.
To learn more about the Strive to Thrive Lincoln class project, visit: https://business.unl.edu/strivetothrive.