‘What’s the big idea?’ award winners



The UNI Nonprofit Leadership Alliance was received the “What’s the Big Idea?” award on Jan. 5. This is a first time win for this organization.


What’s the big idea with UNI?

Earlier this month, that question was answered when UNI’s Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA) was awarded the “What’s the Big Idea?” Award on Jan. 5. They received the award while attending the Alliance Management Institute (AMI) in Kansas City.

This was the first year the award was given by the NLA, which is a national organization headquartered in Kansas City. They work with both workforce partners and colleges and universities.

“Our mission is to strengthen the social sector with a talented and prepared workforce,” said Julianne Gassman, the community engagement director for UNI’s NLA.

UNI’s NLA operates like a student association in which its members receive credit for two semesters of involvement. Students also complete coursework and a 300-hour internship.

UNI’s NLA is consistently ranked among the top five institutions in the country that train certified nonprofit professionals (CNP)s.

“We’re big, but we’re also the best,” Gassman said. “We actually have tons of awards to show it. So not this year at AMI, but last year, we actually received the award for the best organization in the country.”

According to Gassman, the capstone experience for NLA students is attending AMI, which is an annual three-day conference for students working toward becoming CNPs. Students attend various educational sessions, give presentations for awards and consult with nonprofit agencies in the city.

At this year’s AMI, UNI brought 41 students, which was more than any other participating institution. Gassman also notes that, unlike some other institutions, UNI’s extensive fundraising means the students don’t have to pay to attend AMI. This year, the students raised around $20,000.

For the 2018 AMI, KPMG—a professional services firm known for auditing—approached NLA with the concept of the “What’s the Big Idea?” Award. KPMG awarded $500 to UNI for coming up with the most innovative idea to address diversity, equality and inclusion.

“Our big idea is actually to provide training materials for volunteers in the Cedar Valley,” Gassman said. “Lots of volunteers work with people from various backgrounds with different traditions and culture […] We don’t really have a way of training volunteers in the area in the areas of cultural competency, diversity, those kinds of things. So, we are going to produce training materials that can be supplemental to other sorts of training initiatives like the service enterprise at the volunteer center.”

This idea came about in part through meetings between UNI’s NLA and Erin Tink of Love INC (Love In the Name of Christ), which is located in Cedar Falls.

“[Tink] was talking about the method with which [Love INC] trains their volunteers and how they really put a high premium on volunteers who are able to engage effectively with all different kinds of people in their organization,” explained Trevor Schmitt, a senior majoring in leisure, youth and human services who serves as the director of community service at UNI’s NLA. “They were very passionate about that. When we asked them about that — is there something about this that could be replicable where we could take this kind of passion culture and deliver this to other nonprofits — Erin got really excited about that.”

Schmitt presented their big idea at AMI alongside Maddie Christenson. For seven and a half minutes, they spoke to 450 audience members in a style reminiscent of a TED Talk.

“The other teams had good ideas — I think that our idea was the most replicable, and it related the most to the nonprofit sector,” Schmitt said. “We were confident that our idea had considered all the different angles.”

Not only did UNI’s NLA receive the $500 from KPMG, but an audience member from Pennsylvania also gave them an additional $500 to make their big idea a reality.

“I’m really proud of the students and their professional attitude toward everything that they do,” said Kristina Kofoot, the community engagement coordinator at UNI’s NLA. “Trevor has been fantastic in working with our community partners and getting service projects for this semester set up, and I’m super proud of our NLA students. I think they’re some of the best students on campus, and they do fantastic work.”

Looking ahead to next year’s AMI in Orlando, Florida, Gassman intends to present the progress UNI has made with their big idea. The first step in implementing their idea will be strategizing with the Volunteer Center of the Cedar Valley and Love INC.

“I think that our community is extremely diverse — I think a lot more diverse than people realize, and I think that we have a lot of people that volunteer in this community,” Gassman said. “To think our volunteers will feel more prepared and that anyone who’s a recipient of a volunteer’s work feels respected and feels understood and feels right — that would be my ultimate goal.”