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  • Student Consultants Aid Nonprofits in C-U and Beyond


    Service learning Sophomore Ryan Singh, a finance and management major, was an early recruit to year-old Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations. Annie Wang, a sophomore in accounting, said her work with SCNO helped her get a global wealth management internship at Merrill Lynch in Peoria this past summer.

    (Reprinted from Postmarks with permission)

    By Diana Yates

    Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO) is only 1 year old, yet it already has a worthy list of achievements linked to its name.

    The startup student organization brought a “Tree of Hope” to the Quad last fall, raising about $1,000 for the Developmental Services Center of Illinois. It showed one local nonprofit how to set up a computerized accounting system and helped another with its strategic plan. It developed a marketing plan for The I.D.E.A. Store in Champaign and conducted a broad survey of its customers and donors. And it helped Community Choices, a local organization serving youth with disabilities, enhance its online presence.

    Now with 67 members and 10 new projects on its radar (one of them in Africa), the all-volunteer undergraduate student organization is growing into a formidable force for good on campus, in the community and beyond.

    SCNO is a national organization, with chapters at Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State and (now) the UI. Last fall, communication major and Buffalo Grove, Ill., native Grant McNamara, a senior at the time, and industrial/organizational psychology major Mitch Hamer (then a senior from Northbrook, Ill.) founded the group with McNamara’s younger brother, Jordan (Jordy) McNamara, now a junior in finance and information systems.

    They were inspired by the notion that a student group could perform a much-needed community service, Jordy McNamara said.

    “There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations headquartered in Champaign County and few, if any, had real ties to the university and all its resources,” he said. “To have the opportunity to take what I learn every day in the classroom and put it into productive use for these nonprofits … was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

    There are at least two other respected, student-run business consulting organizations on campus, and some SCNO members belong to these as well. But the opportunity to help out an organization that focuses more on its mission than on its bottom line draws those who never considered consulting before.

    Finance and management major Ryan Singh was another early recruit to SCNO. Singh, a sophomore from Long Grove, Ill., was feeling a little lost as a freshman trying to pick a major when he heard a presentation about SCNO and decided to give the organizers a call. He got drawn in and worked with the new SCNO board to support the Developmental Services Center, which serves about 1,400 children and adults with developmental disabilities. The “Tree of Hope” on the Quad lit up as students texted their donations to the DSC, raising money for the cause and needed attention to the fledgling SCNO.

    Singh was then promoted to project manager and led a team of six volunteer consultants working with the DSC again the following semester. The experience of working with the students was “extremely rewarding,” said DSC development director Janice McAteer.

    “They helped to create a comprehensive volunteer program and came up with all the necessary components that we had requested,” she said. “It had a volunteer manual and a manual for management. It was very down-to-earth and very user-friendly. They presented answers to our needs.”

    Singh also finds the work rewarding, and plans to stay with SCNO until he graduates. He also thinks consulting will be in his post-graduation future.

    “I think overall SCNO showed me that I do have strengths,” he said. “There are so many benefits: communication skills, analytical skills, working on a case, looking at a client and analyzing what they need and what they don’t need. Plus it showed me that I can add to the world a little bit, give back some value. All around it just made me a better person. I can’t say that about too many things.”

    Marketing major Fei Ye, a junior who grew up in Peoria, Ill., got the consulting bug when she joined Illinois Business Consulting, the most established student-run consulting group on campus. The IBC also serves nonprofit organizations, but “it tends to be big Fortune 500 companies or sometimes smaller ones around the area,” Ye said. “You’re doing it because the company is paying you, whereas with SCNO I thought it would be great doing something for the community.” Ye still belongs to both groups and refuses to choose between them when other students ask her which one they should join.

    She started as the project manager of a team serving The I.D.E.A. Store, a Champaign-based reuse store for artists and others who enjoy looking for treasure in others’ cast-offs. The team worked with the store’s executive director, Gail Rost, to develop a marketing plan to attract new customers and donors.

    “The SCNO group has been so helpful to us that now we are in our third semester with them,” Rost said. The students gave her a lot of “tangible, applicable information” that she could use to attract more shoppers and donors, she said. They put together a spreadsheet of contacts at local businesses that would have useful materials they might donate to the store. The students developed a contract form to help the store formalize the business-donation process. And over the summer they conducted a survey of I.D.E.A. Store shoppers.

    “The survey information has been very helpful to us to understand who our donors and our shoppers are,” Rost said. She said she is also about to send out a first mailing to people on the business list.

    Sophomore Annie Wang, an accounting major from Dunlap, Ill., led a team that helped Community Choices develop its website and branch out into social media.

    Community Choices executive director Jennifer Knapp was “a little bit nervous about technology,” Wang said, so the team put together a step-by-step guide to help her and her staff navigate the changes.

    “They helped us come up with a plan that we thought was doable and also got us into the 21st century,” Knapp said.

    As a result, Community Choices now has a Facebook page where the young people who use their services can learn about upcoming events. They also can communicate with one another through a password-protected forum on the Community Choices website.

    “It has been a way for them to connect with each other and a way for us to get our information out there,” Knapp said. “As a cooperative, that’s what we’re all about – finding different ways to connect with each other.”

    Wang loves the volunteer work and said it has already advanced her career, helping her get a global wealth management internship at Merrill Lynch in Peoria just after her freshman year.

    “On your resume you can put both that you have consulting experience and you helped a nonprofit, so you cover the professional development and you have community service aspects,” Wang said. “It’s relatively rare for students to get an internship after their freshman year, so I would say that having SCNO on my resume was a key contributing factor to that.”

    Communication professor and SCNO faculty adviser Michelle Shumate, who recruited the group’s initial clients, said those clients tell her how satisfied they are with the student consultants.

    “They think these are fabulous students and are really impressed with the quality of their work,” Shumate said. “And the quality of the work is as good as something that they’ve gotten from local (paid) consultants.”

    SCNO also benefits the students in many ways, she said.

    “This is really an empowering thing to join because they take what they have learned in the classroom and they can put it into practice for organizations that really want the help,” she said. “And I have been surprised –although maybe I shouldn’t have – that this is something that employers love.”

    UIUC College of Business Department of Accountancy