Volunteer Corps matches recent graduates with businesses that need help

July 30, 2020

By Michael Malone

Alumni from the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School volunteer their skills to support nonprofit organizations impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Fanyi Zhang earned her master’s degree in business analytics last May and then turned her attention, like so many of her fellow graduates, to the daunting challenge of finding a job amid the spiraling economic downturn. Freed from the demands of coursework and studies, fueled by her passion to help, and offered the opportunity created by the Miami Herbert Volunteer Corps, Zhang is ready to put her newly honed business skills to work. 

“Joining the Volunteer Corps is really a win-win—because of COVID-19 I’ve had more time at home while I’m job searching, and we’re excited to do what we can to help these nonprofits survive during the crisis,” Zhang explained.   

Zhang forms part of the first cohort of the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School’s Volunteer Corps, a new virtual initiative conceived to match the skill sets of recent business school graduates with the needs of mostly local nonprofit organizations struggling to stay on their feet through the crisis.

“It’s our community responsibility as the leading business school in South Florida to help local businesses recover,” said John Quelch, dean of the Herbert Business School. “That’s who the Volunteer Corps initiative is trying to help.”

“We want to be a player in the recovery of our community, and these students, who want to give of themselves and who have wonderful talents, want to be part of that effort,” added Ginger Baxter, who coordinates the initiative as part of her role as director of career services for the Miami Herbert Business School Ziff Graduate Career Advancement.

“The nonprofits are the ones hit the hardest by this pandemic—they’re already with limited resources and now their volunteers haven’t been able to come in,” Baxter pointed out. “So, students get a chance to improve and practice their skills in a purposeful way and, in this virtual world, the beauty is that we can even help beyond South Florida nonprofits.”

Additionally, Baxter noted that 40 percent of all corporations include a volunteer component as part of their operations. “Employers look for students willing to volunteer in an effort like this.” 

Four volunteers, including Zhang, have been accepted for the corps’ first project with 305 Pink Pack, a nonprofit company that provides free healing support services for women undergoing  cancer treatment and residing in Miami-Dade County. Students will help analyze business strategy and develop comprehensive outreach.  

Several other projects are progressing, according to Baxter. The Miami Jazz Cooperative, a nonprofit company with no paid staff—which since its founding in 2010 has offered more than 500 live concerts—seeks to bolster its communications network. In addition, the Barbara Seniors Harkins Foundation, another nonprofit group, is assessing students with research and financial acumen to generate a funding plan for its programs that motivate children to pursue education beyond high school. 

As projects are referred, students apply to serve—one project at a time. Based on the skills needed, a volunteer team is selected for each, Baxter explained. “It’s all about finding the right volunteer,” she said.

Zhang, who graduated in May with her Master of Science in Business Analytics, is excited to use what she learned—employing data to create insights and guide strategy—for the 305 Pink Pack project.

In addition to her degree,  Zhang brings hands-on experience from a 6-month internship that helped a Mexico-based telehealth firm expand its services into the United States. Her student work team used its understanding of financials and data to analyze the firm’s budget, strategize potential markets, and coordinate interviews with a range of health care facilities including the University of Miami Health System.

Yunuo “Megan” Wu championed the idea for the corps and conducted the critical initial outreach, according to Baxter. Wu, who has since landed an analyst position at Bayview Asset Management, was recognized with an Unsung Hero award for her efforts.

The Volunteer Corps launched in early July and is open to all recent graduates of the Miami Herbert Business School’s M.B.A. program or of its multiple specialized M.S. degree programs. Students must fill out an application and be willing to volunteer 20 hours or more of virtual time per week for a period between two and 12 weeks. The students will be paired with nonprofit companies and will receive corps supervision. 

Companies seeking volunteers must be certified U.S.-based 501(c) organizations. The corps volunteer cannot displace an employee or perform work that would otherwise be done by an employee of the firm.

“Working with nonprofits offers wonderful experience and is so important for our community,” Baxter pointed out. “We really think it’s important for students to realize that the same skill set is needed to lead a nonprofit as it is for a multimillion-dollar corporation,’’ she added.

“Everything that has been going on has made all of us a little more appreciative of what others do for us,” she continued. “And in keeping with where we aspire to be as a school, we are training principled business leaders to be active in helping others.”

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