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Business Students Help Market Non-Profit Groups

Students in the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business are helping non-profit social service agencies in Iowa improve their marketing and management practices. At the same time, these students are also honing their real world business skills and learning the value of volunteering.

The Henry B. Tippie Society for Social Service Professionals is being formed to make the business expertise of the University of Iowa available to social service agencies throughout the state. The society will be housed within the Henry B. Tippie College of Business and focus on helping non-profit, social service professionals learn more about the business of running their organizations.

To this end, the society will provide on-going education programs in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Davenport. The Society also will provide management resources such as online seminars, articles, and planning tools via the Internet. Finally, a unique aspect of the society is that MBA and undergraduate business students will provide Iowa agencies with telephone and online consulting for small projects as well as more time-intensive market research and consultation services through field studies courses.

The Society was formed as an extension of the MBA field studies class taught by John Murry, associate professor of marketing in the Tippie College of Business. "The purpose of the Society is to provide management assistance and expertise to Iowa's social service entrepreneurs," he said. "The Society also will provide opportunities for our students to improve their business skills through hands-on experience."

Murry and his students have already worked with a number of agencies including the Arc of East Central Iowa, Grant Wood Area Red Cross, the Areas Substance Abuse Council, St. Luke's Hospice in Cedar Rapids, and the Crisis Center of Johnson County. Students helped these organizations analyze their markets and create marketing plans that addressed a diverse set of community problems. All projects involved extensive library and Internet research, benchmark interviews with similar organizations across the country, and primary market research with the agencies' clients.

Murry stresses the importance of independent research in developing successful business and non-profit marketing. "Good marketing requires that you know your clients well enough to develop programs that they believe are beneficial rather than programs that you believe are beneficial for them. People will not do voluntarily what they do not believe is in their personal best interest."

The Society will focus on social welfare organizations rather than more general non-profits such as community orchestras, libraries, or museums. Social service professionals are some of the most dedicated and talented entrepreneurs in our communities. They identify important human welfare problems and then develop creative ways for solving the problems or at least improving the situation. Murry believes social welfare organizations have unique resources issues and challenges that make them distinct from other types of non-profits.

"We deeply appreciate and believe in what these dedicated professionals are trying to accomplish," Murry said. "The Society will be an example of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business serving the people of Iowa. We have bright students and faculty who have useful skills and want to share their expertise to improve the lives of Iowans."

MBA student Gabriel Hansen took Murry's class in the fall semester. His team worked on a marketing plan for St. Luke's Hospice (one of about three or four non-profit hospices in the area). A for-profit competitor had recently entered Cedar Rapids, so the hospice was looking for advice about how to distinguish itself and market its social services to the public.

"That class was by far the most rewarding experience for me in the Tippie MBA Program. The genius of the class is that, while we were there to help a non-profit learn better business skills, we ended up gaining the best hands-on, real-world learning experience we could possibly have achieved through an academic class," Hansen said.

Even though the class was completed, the students were inspired and wanted more. They worked with Murry to develop a plan that was awarded a $9,000 grant from the University of Iowa's Year of Public Engagement initiative. The Society is using this money to fund its current programs and develop a plan for a substantial expansion of its services throughout the state.

This expansion includes a more complete set of management services and a website with online resources and seminars. Currently, the Tippie students are working with the Crisis Center in Iowa City to develop strategies to increase the volunteer pool and food resources, and develop a branding plan. They have spent time on-site developing an understanding of the agency's structure, services, and culture, so that they can provide a thorough assessment and set of recommendations.

"It's helpful to have a fresh set of eyes examine challenges we face and to recommend specific ways to improve our operations. The students are able to spend time investigating issues that my staff hasn't been able to look at, given the increased client caseloads," said Crisis Center Executive Director and Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn.

Seminars on social marketing and other issues will be delivered on a rotating basis in the Tippie College of Business classroom facilities throughout the state. "Our plan is to expand student and faculty involvement in this initiative beyond marketing, so we can present workshops in areas such as human resource and financial management," Murry said. The Society will provide a complementary service to the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center, he added.

The Tippie MBA Program believes that experiential, hands-on learning is one of the best ways to teach students. Small class sizes and dedicated faculty and staff make this program one of the best values in the nation. The Tippie MBA typically ranks in the top 50 business programs.


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