University of Minnesota
September 9, 2011
In Roy Gaddey's course on operating a nonprofit organization, students are organizing a number of fund-raising events—all for the benefit of Twin Cities–based charities—like a special movie night at Midway Stadium.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary
Yearlong practicum gives U students the chance to operate a nonprofit organization
By Rick Moore
Roy Gaddey knows the importance of tangible professional and business experience. He has it in spades himself, having been a vice president of business development for a Fortune 500 company, the owner of a sports marketing firm, and a real estate developer.
So when he returned to the classroom—Gaddey teaches business and marketing education and sports marketing—he schemed of a way to take student learning far beyond the realm of textbooks.
His brainchild is “BIE 4420: Practicum in Non Profit Organizations”—a yearlong course that enables students to start up and operate their own 501c3 corporation.
The first cohort of students began the course last spring, and while most U students are now easing into a new semester, Gaddey’s class is gearing up for a flourish of fundraising activities. The biggest is “Movie Night at the Midway” on September 24—an effort to gather the largest crowd ever in the United States to watch a movie outdoors.
Record crowd or not, the more people who come watch the director’s cut of Avatar that evening will mean more money to benefit the Kevin Love Salvation Army Winter Coat Drive. All of the proceeds of the events held by the nonprofit organization—“Students Impacting Communities”—go to benefit charitable programs chosen by the students.
Not a textbook course description
In other courses, Gaddey has tried to augment theory with significant “real-life practical experience.” But for his yearlong practicum he went a step further with the notion of establishing the 501c3 corporation—not at all affiliated with the University.
The idea was for students to “learn the planning, get involved with actually doing the sales and the marketing, and learn all these things hands on, [all] to give them a little bit more than what an internship would give them,” Gaddey says. “We want them to experience everything—the good, the failures, everything—and then we also want them to get involved in the outreach … so everything we raise we give back.”
The goal for 2011 is to raise at least $200,000 in funds that will be distributed to charities—chosen by the students—in and beyond the Twin Cities. In addition to the Kevin Love Winter Coat Drive, other beneficiaries include Toys For Tots, area homeless shelters and food drives, and two University-based organizations—Habitat for Humanity and One Million Books for Gambia.
Students appreciate the experience
Jenna Manzetti, a senior sports management major from Green Bay, Wisconsin, appreciates the hands-on nature of operating the nonprofit. She’s been responsible for creating the web site and for some of the social media efforts.
“It was a great chance for me to pair the business course with getting the nonprofit up and running,” Manzetti says.
With the lion’s share of classes, most of the learning happens in the classroom, with the exception of the occasional internship, she notes. “This class is all in one. You learn it, you apply it, and you actually do it.”
“One of the main reasons I got into the class is for the networking,” adds Tanner Londo, the project manager for the movie event at Midway Stadium. “Now that we’re starting to run the events I’ll have a chance to meet more influential people—people you’ll want to network with.”
Londo also found the traditional textbook aspect of the practicum—which explained the ins and outs of creating a nonprofit and developing a business plan—beneficial, to say the least.
“Normally I sell my textbooks back, but I’m definitely keeping the two course books we got for this class,” he says.
Beyond ‘Movie Night’
Of course, with any new start-up there are bound to be a few kinks, and Students Impacting Communities hasn’t been immune. A couple of events had to be cut due to lack of preparation time and capital, and the aspirations for the movie event had to be scaled back. The original goal was to set a world record for attendance, then an event in Brazil drew “27,000 and some change,” jokes Gaddey. “Midway Stadium doesn’t handle 27,000, so we had to switch it from going after a Guinness Book record to a U.S. record.”
“It’ll be a good experience whether we break the record or not,” he adds. “It’ll raise a lot of funds.”
Londo gives the course high marks, and thinks it will be beneficial for future University students—and the organizations they touch.
“It’s only going to get better [in the future],” he says. “A couple years down the road, it can be a really big thing in this community.”
Anyone interested in attending Movie Night at the Midway can purchase tickets through the Saint Paul Saints box office website. Use the code UMN to receive a 50 percent discount for tickets.