If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that technology can help people stay connected during uncertain times. However, for many people and organizations, accessible technology was a challenge.
Finding solutions to a particular business challenge is the motivation behind Fox Board Fellows, an experiential learning program at Fox School of Business where students partner with a nonprofit organization on a project tailored to the organization’s needs.
Justine Braun, MS ’21, and Ted Magrane, MBA ’21, were among the 2020-2021 fellows who worked alongside a range of nonprofit organizations within the Delaware Valley. The graduate students participate as non-voting board members, attending meetings and activities the organizations hold.
Braun and Magrane were paired with SquashSmarts, an athletic and academic mentoring program supporting youth from several Philadelphia public schools.
Before the pandemic, students in the SquashSmarts program met three times a week to play squash and held in-person career development and tutoring. The move to online learning changed everything.
The organization used resources and funding previously intended for in-person activities to provide technology for online learning.
“SquashSmarts is a very in-person program, so what they had to focus on more is the families by providing these kids with stable internet or a quality laptop rather than trying to resume physical activities,” Magrane says.
The cancellation of in-person meetings also forced the fellows to initially pivot from their original goal. Together, they hoped to create an apprenticeship program that would provide an alternative option for students pursuing a career path other than attending college.
By keeping a virtual connection with the students, SquashSmarts was able to eventually implement the apprenticeship program.
“It was really important to the organization that we create a long-lasting impact to contribute to the organization that they can use for their community in the long run,” Braun says.
Magrane believes having an outside perspective is what SquashSmarts needed to navigate the pandemic and allowed it to implement the apprenticeship program despite the new challenges.
“Being able to evaluate what a company needs, even if they don’t know they need it yet, is super valuable,” Magrane says.
Meanwhile, MBA student Marissa Natole, also a Fox Board Fellow, found that her original project was still doable.
With some additional reliance on new technology, she introduced the use of business intelligence to combat donor attrition at Youth Mentoring Partnership (YMP), a Philadelphia nonprofit focused on providing mentorship and fitness to at-risk students.
Natole saw how the pandemic exacerbated an already existing issue of sustaining repeat donations and sought to implement a system to proactively keep donors engaged.
“It is so important for nonprofits to use the system effectively to retain their donors,” Natole says.
She suggested the use of the subscription-based fundraising software DonorPerfect. The program would allow YMP to identify its core donors and keep track of their patterns in order to encourage more donations.
“If we haven’t received a donation from someone who donates every six months, we should be reaching out at the five-month mark asking to donate,” Natole says.
YMP agreed to adopt DonorPerfect and donations are being accepted through the nonprofit’s website.
The fellows all agreed that technology helped their organizations adapt during a time when feeling disconnected from others was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“The organizations really tried to help us find good projects,” Braun says. “We weren’t just there listening to the board meetings, but actually contributing to the organizations and making an impact.”