George Mason University

News at Mason

Fundraising Course Takes Students into the Nonprofit World

August 21, 2013

By Frances Womble

Brianna Kennedy worked on a Kentucky Derby themed fundraiser for PRS Inc. Photo courtesy of Brianna Kennedy

Brianna Kennedy worked on a Kentucky Derby-themed fundraiser for PRS Inc. Photo courtesy of Brianna Kennedy

Senior Brianna Kennedy planned to graduate this summer. However, Kennedy, a communication major who is minoring in sociology and nonprofit studies, is postponing her graduation for a semester because of a job offer she received for the summer. The offer was a result of her experience working with a local nonprofit as part of a class offered through the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement.

Last spring, Kennedy took NCLC 431: Principles of Fundraising, a 4-credit course that exposes students to real-world fundraising work through partnerships with local nonprofit agencies.

According to adjunct instructor Twila Johnson, the course covers the structure of nonprofits and fundraising techniques. Students must reach out to a local nonprofit and find a grant for a nonprofit cause; attend a fundraiser as a guest and evaluate how it was run; and work 30 hours on a fundraising activity for a local organization. Finally, the students are asked to write a five-year fundraising plan.

“I want them to know that money is not the only aspect of nonprofit fundraising,” says Johnson.

“When done right, community-based learning pedagogy is a triple benefit,” says Wendy Wagner, director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement. “The community receives assistance from energetic students and new advocates who share what they’ve experienced with family and friends. The students have a powerful learning experience that challenges them to not just memorize facts but apply learning to solve problems. The faculty find renewed meaning in their work from the ability to make community connections through their work and from seeing students actually getting excited about course learning objectives.”

To ensure students have a meaningful experience, Johnson screens the organization and fundraiser.

“I have to make sure we have mutual goals and benefits,” she says. “The students are not just volunteers. I send them with a basic knowledge of fundraising, and I want them to have measurable knowledge. I make sure there’s someone with fundraising knowledge who will take the student under their wing to develop their experience.”

Kennedy teamed up with Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Inc. (PRS Inc.), a nonprofit that works with people with mental illness and emotional or behavioral disorders to achieve wellness and community integration. She learned about fundraising while helping to prepare for PRS Inc.’s Kentucky Derby Benefit last May.

“I’m very passionate about PRS Inc.’s vision and culture, and I wouldn’t have found them without the class,” says Kennedy. “Students are used to taking a 4-credit science course, but I think service learning is the most beneficial 1-credit component I’ve taken. It synthesizes the course, and I feel twice as prepared because of the service learning aspect.”

Last spring, PRS Inc. received a grant through Exxon Mobil and Volunteer Fairfax to fund a full-time summer internship and offered the position to Kennedy, prompting her to put off graduation.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” she says. “I couldn’t turn down this opportunity.”

This summer, Kennedy has worked as a resource development assistant to help PRS Inc. prepare for the organization’s 50th anniversary gala in October. She will continue working in this role up until the gala.

“This position was directly a result of her experience with the class,” says Meredith Hovan, director of resource development at PRS Inc. “She quickly became part of our team, adapting to our culture, identifying areas where her experience could be of value to our organization and jumping right in on a number of projects. She has added so much capacity to our small resource development team, and she is now managing three major projects in preparation for our October event.”

Kennedy is not alone in her success. According to Johnson, on average, three students each semester are offered jobs or internships from organizations they partnered with for the class.

“The course is not intended to be vocational, but it’s such a bridge, so it has an effect of providing vocational assistance,” Johnson says.