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Willamette MBA students and the United Way grant funds to empower local organizations

by Marketing & Communications,

Grant funds distributed by the Willamette MBA Community Grant program lift up local organizations pursuing diversity, inclusion, racial justice and social equity.

Willamette MBA Community Grant program awards seven organizations across Yamhill, Polk and Marion counties $150,000 to bring about racial and social equity programs within rural and underserved communities. Each organization is making a significant impact right here at home.

Awarded organizations 

  • Black Joy Oregon, operating funds to hire their first employee and secure an office, $50,000
  • Boys and Girls Club of Salem, Marion and Polk Counties, operating funds to ensure the club continues programs for children the most in need, $30,000
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates of Polk County, operating funds to expand and retain its network of trained volunteer advocates, $20,000
  • Marion-Polk Food Share, operating funds to ensure the continuation of the Farm Share Rx program, helping people manage diet-related disease, $17,000
  • REACH Northwest, operating funds for the Foster Care Stability Program, offering program leadership support and the ability to launch two new programs: Trauma Solutions Training Practice and The Care Provider Network, $19,500
  • Sparrow Furniture, capital to expand the workroom for the apprentice program, $9,500
    Willamette Valley Development Officers, for the development of regionally specific quarterly programming focused on BIPOC fundraising professionals and operationalizing equity within their organization, $4,000

They join the growing list of organizations receiving funding through this unique program managed by students in Willamette University’s MBA program generously funded by United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley.

How this all came together

With $150,000 from United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley this year’s student-led cohort rolled up their sleeves on day one. Eager to gain a strong understanding of the needs across communities in these three counties, students held meetings with local leaders. Among the many issues local communities are faced with, a major recurring theme centered on the need to directly address social equity and racial justice. In the midst of a global pandemic, raging wildfires just up the canyon and political unrest across the nation, the cohort centered their conversations about the grant funding opportunity around what became the values they would lead with: social justice, inclusivity, integrity and impact. After several weeks of learning and holding a board-like discussion, this year’s cohort chose to focus on marginalized communities and BIPOC lead or supported organizations. Meetings with local BIPOC leaders further affirmed their mission statement: Addressing root causes to support an inclusive, equitable, and just Mid-Willamette Valley by prioritizing issues facing oppressed communities.

Co-instructors Andrew Galen and Nicole Thibodeau advised students, helping them make informative and thoughtful decisions on funding grantees. Students also sought guidance from prominent leaders in the local not-for-profit community and were highly influenced by listening to and learning from local BIPOC leaders. Throughout the year, the cohort made decisions, and shared them with the advisory board, by assessing potential impact on the funding area and the overall alignment with their mission, vision and values.

The ultimate, guiding vision: “A prosperous environment, where all communities thrive”.

How the community responded

The response to the letter of intent (LOI), produced 42 applications, totaling $929,000. Students systematically evaluated all responses and selected 16 organizations to submit a more detailed request for proposal (RFP), totaling an ask of $400,000. An additional review process followed by virtual site visits led students to select 7 local not-for-profit organizations to receive a total of $150,000 in funding for the 2020–21 grant cycle. The students referenced their mission, vision and values throughout the process to ensure organizations’ proposed project, leadership and overall mission were in alignment.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic and restrictions on social gatherings, the award event was held virtually on April 15, 2021. This ceremony honored grant recipients for the current 2020-2021 grant cycle as well as the past 2019-2020 cycle. Last year’s grantees were Connections 365, Institute of Applied Ecology, Latinos Unidos Siempre, Marion Polk Food Share, Mid-Valley Suicide Prevention Coalition, REACH Northwest and St. Francis Shelter.

Experiential and consequential learning has been central to the Atkinson Graduate School of Management curriculum for more than twenty years. In the last decade, experiential learning has augmented what Atkinson calls consequential learning, in which students are compelled to apply what they learn and then experience the consequences of the decisions they make.

Established in 2016 as a partnership between United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Mountain West Investment Corporation and Willamette University MBA, the Willamette MBA Community Grant Program has invested in 32 community organizations, awarding 39 grants totaling $700,000 in its first five years. This program was created with the goal to cultivate leadership in the not-for-profit sector and create a significant impact in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.

These awards are the culmination of two semesters of hard work for the students enrolled in the Willamette MBA course Philanthropic Investment for Community Impact. This year for the first time, the course was also offered to students enrolled in the MBA for Professionals program at both Salem and Portland campuses. The mix of students allowed for unique collaboration and mentoring, and was overall beneficial to the process.

Special thanks to former Chief Executive Officer of United Way Ron Hays for being one of the inaugural instructors of the course and United Way’s current Chief Executive Officer Rhonda Wolf for continuing this collaboration, past funder Mount West Investment, and to all the organizations that applied to the grant program this cycle.

About Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management

Based in Salem, Oregon, we are the premier private university in the Pacific Northwest — the only university in the country that appears on both the US News Best National Liberal Arts Colleges list and the Forbes and Businessweek best business schools lists. With unique proximity to our state's capitol, we are a national leader in civic engagement, delivering an “Only at Willamette” education.

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