Nonprofit management class provides real-world experience for students, grants for local nonprofits

Nonprofit management class provides real-world experience for students, grants for local nonprofits 

June 4, 2020

Good Neighbors of Blount County has seen an unprecedented number of applications for assistance with basic necessities of rent and utility payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But thanks to a partnership with Maryville College and David Nibayubahe ’23, one of the students enrolled in MC’s Introduction to Nonprofit Management course, the local nonprofit organization and community ministry has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the East Tennessee Foundation earmarked for Blount County residents economically affected by COVID-19. 

 “Beginning in early March and increasing in unimaginable ways around mid-March, the call volume increased beyond anything Good Neighbors has experienced,” said Lisa Blackwood, the organization’s executive director and only paid staff member. “So many people who have never had to ask for assistance in the past were unable to pay rent and/or utilities.

“Having this grant has eased the pressure of serving our neighbors during this time,” Blackwood continued. “Along with grants from United Way and other donations, Good Neighbors has been able to assist about double the number of households from our normal schedule. Think of it this way – in the month of April 2019, Good Neighbors assisted 79 households. In the month of April 2020, Good Neighbors assisted 236 households. Without grants, there is no way we could have managed to assist these families in need.”  

Down to business

Amy Gilliland, director of community engagement at Maryville College and campus director for the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, teaches Introduction to Nonprofit Management. What originally began as a 15-day January-term course evolved into a 15-week, full-semester course in 2019. 

Gilliland explained that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2001 by the College and American Humanics Inc., now Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, in a partnership committed to academic and co-curricular programming that supports the mission of preparing and certifying future nonprofit professionals to work with America’s youth and families.

“This program was known at that time as American Humanics, and an Introduction to Nonprofit Management course was led by [MC alumnus and current MC board member] Cole Piper ’68,” Gilliland said. “The course is housed in the Division of Social Sciences alongside business, since, basically, successful nonprofits need to function like a business. 

“When I prepared to teach the course in school year 2017-18, I wanted to align all the content with the 10 competencies that the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance has determined are necessary for success as a nonprofit professional. I also wanted the students to become more familiar with nonprofit agencies in our community, and I wanted them to apply the knowledge they were learning in class with an actual nonprofit.”

In the first two weeks of the course, each student identifies an agency he or she wants to work with and, throughout the semester, applies course work to that agency. For example, Gilliland said when they study mission statements, the students examine their organization’s mission statement. When they study human resources, staffing, boards of directors and volunteers, students look at these from their organization’s point of view.

“Throughout the course, in all of the competency areas, they were gaining all this knowledge about the agency to then be able to write a SWOT analysis,” in which they identify the nonprofit’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, Gilliland said. “They used that information to then work with the agency to identify a grant project.”

Maryville College is also a member of the Alliance for Better Nonprofits, and through that membership, students have access to GrantStation, a grant database. After learning how to use GrantStation, students come up with three to five grant options and work with their chosen agency to determine which grant to pursue. 

Students’ reactions

Nibayubahe, a rising sophomore who aspires to graduate as a certified nonprofit professional through the College’s Program for Nonprofit Leadership, said, “The work nonprofits do is unmatched, and getting to learn more about the ins and outs of everything was a no brainer. Being able to go to college and make an impact in the community I go to school in is amazing. I came to Maryville to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and doing what I did with Good Neighbors is an example of how I am carrying out that goal. I mean, who would’ve thought that I, a refugee kid from Africa, would write a SWOT analysis, action plan and grant for a nonprofit organization, and it got approved. It still hasn’t hit me yet that I did that, because it is so incredible. I have the man above who leads my life to thank.” (Read more about Nibayubahe and his journey to MC.)

Julia Grace Kidd ’22, a rising junior, wrote her grant application to the Haslam Family Foundation for the United Way of Blount County and has not yet learned if it has been accepted.

“I chose United Way because I have been interning for them since last semester, and I wanted to pick a nonprofit that I knew well; that way I could write the best grant for them,” she said. “I also picked United Way because I love their mission, and I love that they fight for everyone.”

She took the Introduction to Nonprofit Management course because she wants to work with nonprofits, plus she sees how the coursework can be beneficial in most other fields.

“Through the whole course, the main lesson I learned is the importance of relationships with other people, including the people you serve, the people who work for you, the people who you are asking to donate,” she said.  

Across the board

Gilliland said the course is beneficial for any student, whether they want a career in the public, private or nonprofit sector.

“It’s not just for students who want to work in nonprofits,” she said. “It’s for students who want to be the lawyers, the doctors, the mayors, who will be future board members … because in the nonprofit world, the board members need to understand how a nonprofit operates in order to be effective.”

Students often tell Gilliland they didn’t realize how much complexity is involved with nonprofit management.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to spend a whole semester getting to understand the ins and outs of nonprofit management in a way that’s applied and not just knowledge from a textbook and knowledge in a classroom,” she said. “I hope students will take away understanding that there’s a lot more to nonprofit work than just the warm, fuzzy feelings. I hope they will continue to stay engaged with a nonprofit organization and will use the skills they have to benefit whatever community they’re in. While they’re at the College, I hope they will use it in the Maryville community, and once they graduate, I hope they will use it no matter where they go.

“It all fits really, really well with the storied history of the College,” she said. “There’s 200 years of rich history of community engagement and community partnerships … It’s who we have been, it’s who we are and it’s who we aspire to continue to be.” 

Written by Linda Braden Albert for Maryville College


Photo caption: Each year, students in MC’s “Introduction to Nonprofit Management” course visit and learn about nonprofit strategies and best practices at Emerald Youth Foundation. Pictured here are students with MC alumnus Steve Diggs ’88 (founder, president and CEO of EYF) during a visit on March 6, 2020.

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”