Innovative Penn State students elevate local non-profit community

By Marcus Sabrowski, March 2017

Recently, The Nittany Valley Society has had the pleasure of working with students from the Penn State chapter of SCNO. Their consulting teams are helping us rethink and elevate marketing of the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk. The experience has been extremely positive, and we invited them to share their story with the readers of Town&Gown this month.

Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO) is a student organization that operates out the Smeal College of Business at Penn State. As a national organization, SCNO has 18 chapters located everywhere from Rochester, New York, to as far away as Los Angeles, California. Penn State’s SCNO chapter has seven executive board members, seven project managers, and 28 consultants. Our organization’s goal is to make a lasting impact on our local community, whether it be campus, town, or the entirety of Centre County.

Since 2011, we have helped over 50 nonprofit clients based out of University Park all the way to the Dominican Republic. These clients have ranged from women-empowerment groups to housing service organizations to health facilities. Our clients are always unique and face challenges that for-profit organizations don’t often encounter. Some services we offer include fundraising and capital allocation, marketing campaigns, human resource management, operational management, and even engineering systems. These challenges yield rewarding experiences, not just for our members, but also our clients.

At the heart of our organization is service. To get a better understanding of who we are, it is best to look at our members. SCNO’s members have a passion for both commitment and hard work. Becoming a part of our group is no easy feat. This academic year, there was a 30 percent acceptance rate into our group. Accordingly, the average member grade point average is over 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. We find strength in our diversity as a group; we have consultants who call areas all over the United States as well as India, Germany, and Singapore home. While we do host plenty of business majors, our organization also has students who study microbiology, health policy, communications, and engineering. This diversity has helped lead to many successes.

We find our greatest successes are happy clients. The most important thing to SCNO is the continued relationships with nonprofits. Without them, students would not find as much success in their college years. Our consultants receive valuable training at the beginning of each school year, to provide them with the best skills needed for their engagements. Jason Hu, the board member in charge of training had this to say about his goals: “The goal we set for our members is to construct a sense of collaboration and critical thinking. We love when trainings are given and the consultants ask clarifying questions and are detailed in their work.”

Most of our projects last one full academic year. Our teams, on average, meet with clients on a biweekly basis to ensure project accomplishment. It is estimated that each group will spend approximately six hours per week dedicated to work for SCNO. This sums to 150 hours per school year.

Tony, a first-year project manager, had this to say about his experiences so far: “In the beginning, I was looking to build experience in consulting and to provide community service. However, throughout the time, as I learned how to lead and work with other student-consultants, I found myself feeling happy, and I knew that I had made the right decision. Not only is working with team members a joyful experience, when we interact with our client, I also feel empowered through her encouragement. Although we are in a consultant-client relationship, it is still very nice to know that there is a mutual benefit.”

What makes our organization stand out, in the executive board’s opinion, is the significant, positive effect SCNO has on our community. Paul, a three-year member said, “SCNO is great because it not only helped me grow in terms of problem solving and application, but also because we take great pride in our work and service. My first client engagement was rooted in sustaining jobs for those with disabilities; there is no feeling more rewarding than accomplishing that goal.”

We find that many students do not get the opportunity to maintain a collaborative effort that has direct and tangible evidence. Beyond the classroom, our members are making a difference in surrounding organizations and lives that need it most.

It is by no chance that SCNO has grown from a small group in 2011 into what it is today. Most of our executive board has been involved in the organization for three years or longer and are passionate about helping local communities and individuals grow. Additionally, our groups has a high retention rate for returning consultants. Savannah Brunette, the current president of the organization, when asked why she feels consulting nonprofits was so important responded, “We make sure that our members are passionate people. We find that those who have a drive to help others and want to grow find a lot of success in our organization.”

We hope that our longevity continues into the future, as both our organization and the local community simultaneously grows.

Marcus Sabrowski is vice president of public relations for Penn State SCNO.