Students go from the classroom to the boardroom to conduct multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign for area nonprofit

Five UAB students were among 50 loaned and sponsored executives who helped the United Way of Central Alabama exceed its 2015 Volunteer Campaign fundraising goal.
As the year draws to a close, UAB News looks back at some of the top stories of 2016. See them all here.


loaned executive programFrom left: Caleb McKerley, Erica Coleman, Laura Vickery, Anaiza Medina, Elizabeth Clark.

For more than two months in the fall, five University of Alabama at Birmingham students found out what it is like to manage a large-scale fundraising campaign for a major nonprofit organization.

Every year, United Way of Central Alabama pursues an ambitious annual fundraising campaign to advance its impact on more than 80 area agencies and programs that help those in need. Local businesses and organizations are asked to select one or more employees to participate in the organization’s Loaned Executive Program. Participants come from all areas of the workforce, including middle management, professional, clerical and organized labor. They develop and implement company campaigns by working with top management and employee campaign coordinators at each business. 

Businesses are also given the opportunity to make a corporate donation instead of sharing staff, leaving spots open for sponsored students looking to learn the ins and outs of running a major nonprofit campaign. Among the 50 loaned and sponsored executives who helped the United Way exceed its 2015 fundraising goal, with more than $38 million pledged, were five sponsored UAB students. UAB is the only school in the state to have students in the program.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Elizabeth Simmons, assistant director of Career and Professional Development Services. “This puts our talented students out in the community to showcase what we are training them for. We put a lot of emphasis on experiential learning here at UAB. These types of learning experiences are at the core of helping students become marketable. The program has all of the skill profiles that employers are seeking: good communication, project management, relationship building, critical thinking and so on.”

Loaned executives go through a weeklong intensive training, which begins in August. The training workshops include leadership development, team building, presentation and sales skills, time management, planning and organizing, and decision-making. The executives are placed on teams and assigned to new or existing companies to run fundraising campaigns that benefit the United Way of Central Alabama.

“Through this internship, students become part of the business community,” said Simmons. “They gain invaluable experience and make important connections, while serving the Birmingham community in a very impactful way.”

Loaned executives go through a weeklong intensive training, which begins in August. The training workshops include leadership development, team building, presentation and sales skills, time management, planning and organizing, and decision-making. The executives are placed on teams and assigned to new or existing companies to run fundraising campaigns that benefit the United Way of Central Alabama.

UAB Career and Professional Development Services staff work with the United Way to hold an interest meeting for students each year. The application process for this paid internship is similar to that of any other job. Students are required to submit a resume, cover letter and a letter of recommendation from a professor. They are then called for an initial interview with three campaign relationship managers. A second interview with the campaign vice president and senior relationship manager is coordinated, and afterward, final selections are made.

The Career and Professional Development Services office provides resources for students to gain the experience needed to successfully navigate a competitive job market and achieve their career goals. A variety of services are offered to help students wherever they are in their career process, including career and major exploration, career consulting, career fairs, job shadowing and volunteering, and career action plan development and provides job and internship opportunities listed by major in the DragonTrail Jobs database.

That office is where post-baccalaureate student Elizabeth Clark found herself after deciding to change her career path. Clark is pursuing her second bachelor’s degree in communication management in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Communication Studies.

“I wanted to be a museum curator, but I changed my mind after I graduated,” said Clark. “I met with Elizabeth Simmons in the Career and Professional Development office on a Friday. I told her what I was interested in and she looked over my resume. One of the students selected for the loaned executive program was unable to participate so she passed my resume along to someone with the United Way. Within an hour I received a phone call to schedule an interview. We talked about the program and I was offered the position, all within 24 hours.”

After training, Clark spent her time helping to organize fundraising campaigns at some of the state’s largest companies and small businesses in the area.

“The connections I’ve made as a loaned executive have been phenomenal,” said Clark. “Being afforded the opportunity as a student is absolutely amazing. From the training and real-world experience, I’ve seen improvement in my public speaking and cold calling skills. It’s hands-down the best experience I have ever had to grow myself professionally.”

Second-year graduate student Erica Coleman is pursing a master’s degree in public administration in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Government. She decided to apply for the program after hearing about the experiences of two fellow MPA students who participated in 2014. Coleman spent 13 weeks working with local banks and law and accounting firms.

“This experience has helped me interact more comfortably with people in different professions,” said Coleman. “Public speaking has become almost natural to me after this experience. I’ve built relationships with people throughout the business community.”

Students selected for the program come from varying academic areas and degree levels. Joining Coleman and Clark for the 2015 loaned executive program were Anaiza Medina, senior, business management major; Laura Vickery, a graduate student pursing a master’s degree in public administration; and recent graduate Caleb McKerley who earned a master’s degree in history.

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