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Recent graduate Jesse McDonald presents a check to three staff members from Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center of the Smokies and Lakeway CASA.

A team of students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, awarded five local nonprofit teams a total of $20,000 as part of their final class assignment. The awards were supported by a semester of learning how successful nonprofits are operated in a course taught annually in UT’s Haslam College of Business.

Alex Miller, William B. Stokely Chair of Business, has led students in awarding a total of $130,000 to 24 organizations since launching the Learning through Giving course in 2016.

Alex Miller

“It is a very rewarding class to teach because you know that you’re doing good things for both the community and students,” said Miller. “The students really have to grapple with their values and they have to consider other peoples’ values as well because they have to make a consensus decision. They argue with each other from the very beginning because they have to come up with an agreed-upon framework that they’ll evaluate the nonprofits on. That makes them get pretty introspective, but it also makes them appreciate the diversity of thought in the classroom.”

UT works to prepare students to be a catalyst for change, encouraging them to listen, learn and step forward in leadership to meet the needs of communities in Tennessee and beyond.

Preparation for the fall class begins in April, when Kitty Cornett, program manager for the Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness, begins soliciting capacity-building proposals for the students to review on the second day of class. The course is offered in collaboration with the consortium, housed in the college’s Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Awards are granted to member organizations of the Alliance for Better Nonprofits. To promote collaboration among nonprofits, the consortium requires organizations to submit proposals in teams of two or more.

Sarah Moseley, a senior marketing major from Nashville, said that before starting the class she knew little of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a nonprofit organization.

“I was definitely just a volunteer, a set of hands to help,” said Moseley. “I did not see the comparison between for profits and nonprofits that I do now, and I didn’t realize how much it really took to be successful as there are so many nonprofits and you really have to differentiate yourself.”

After reviewing the proposals, students head out into the community and surrounding areas to meet with the nonprofit teams and learn more about the plans they’ve proposed. Moseley’s group visited the Emerald Youth Foundation and Centro Hispano, which submitted a joint proposal to bring secondary education resources to Hispanic students in Knoxville.

Miller’s rules for the course require 100 percent consensus on the funding allocations, which means the whole class must debate each proposal’s merits. Moseley said the site visits made each of her classmates more passionate about their organizations’ proposals and the group debated up until the last minutes of class on their final day.

At semester’s end, the students present checks to nonprofit teams. In December, the 2022 Learning through Giving class made five awards:

  • Lakeway CASA, $6,000
  • Bridge Services Inc. and the Center for English, $5,050
  • Special Growers and Maryville College, $3,600
  • Emerald Youth Foundation and Centro Hispano, $3,600
  • East Tennessee STEM and the University-Assisted Community Schools, $1,750

The course is fully funded by generous community supporters including David and Jane Schumann, a professor emeritus and former administrator at UT, respectively, and Cumberland Capital Partners, which has elected to continue its support to increase accountability and efficiency in the nonprofit space in Tennessee. Barry Goss, founder of Pro2Serve, was the catalyst behind the college’s involvement in nonprofits.

Moseley said she went into the course initially thinking she’d be giving her time to organizations through volunteering. The course inspired her to set intentions to join the board of a nonprofit in her hometown.

“Being at UT, our whole point is being Volunteers,” said Moseley. “Knowing that this is a donation-based course, other people in the community see the value in nonprofits enough to put up this kind of money to let us as students get that experience to go out in the community and learn those lessons while we’re in college so that we can build nonprofits to be better. This class definitely put the university’s values much more into perspective for me and it is one that I’m excited to get to carry on whenever I become an alumna.”


Lindsey Owen McBee (865-974-6375,