“Learning By Giving” helps UTK students study how to give money away thoughtfully.
This program is another outcome of the partnership that Alex Miller and Barry Goss forged more than a decade ago.
As noted in the first article in this series, the impetus for the Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness (CSEE) in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) was a collaboration between Alex Miller, William B. Stokely Chair of Business in the Haslam College, and Barry Goss, Founder of Pro2Serve, an Oak Ridge-based professional services firm.
As a result of that initial collaboration, Miller led efforts to launch two follow-on programs – the Alliance for Better Nonprofits, now part of the United Way of Greater Knoxville, and an annual fall semester course titled “Learning By Giving” where UTK students study how to give money away thoughtfully. We had the opportunity to learn just how impactful the semester-long course has been on two of the recent participants.
“It was most different from all my other courses,” says Sarah Moseley, a student from Nashville who was already helping an organization founded at UTK in 2019 named the Student Basic Needs Coalition. “The biggest impact was how it shifted my perspective on nonprofits.”
Noting that she had always made her own decisions, the course helped Moseley “learn how to take in feedback.” Grants made by the students require 100 percent consensus, so every student must address the different values and preferences of their classmates.
For Tanner White, another student already involved with a nonprofit, serving on the board of directors of the Anchor Foundation. the course was “very, very focused on the practical . . . more than any other course I have taken. Miller really drives home that the point of nonprofits is to accomplish their mission . . . It’s like mission first, foremost, and forever.”
CSEE and the “Learning By Giving” course would not have been launched without the partnership that Miller and Goss forged, a relationship that is still strong today. We asked Goss about the motivation for getting involved and the impact that he believes CSEE has made.
“Establishing a steering committee of private individuals and seeking funds was a joint effort with Alex,” Goss said before the always-on-point businessman explained the rationale. “When private individuals and companies have the desire to contribute to specific charitable and community causes they believe in, they want to feel assured the nonprofit entities receiving their funds have good leadership, governance, and the organizational ability to achieve meaningful impact. We felt that private funding would gladly support an effort to offer disciplined education and training to improve the business side of Knoxville area nonprofits – and that proved to be the case.”
As far as the impact, Goss summarized it in one word – “Priceless! The program has provided top-quality business education and training to hundreds of college students, nonprofit leaders, and board members. Good business practices and services are being applied across a broad spectrum of nonprofit organizations in the Knoxville region. The improved business effectiveness and efficiency of these organizations will improve the lives of countless individuals in our community for years to come.”
Their mutual respect was evidenced by an email that Miller sent to Goss as he was transitioning leadership of CSEE to two new Co-Directors. Noting that he is writing a book about what he has learned through the CSEE experience, Miller said it would be dedicated to Goss’ late wife Karen “for the ripple effect of inspiration she provided to you, and you in turn provided to me.”
In the email, he cited “some data points on the impact you’ve had,” citing the early days when it was difficult to fill 20 seats and now 34 individuals have signed up for the next 10-month program.
“The undergraduate class is more popular than ever,” Miller writes. “It continues to attract some of UT(K)’s strongest students from various honors and service-learning programs. The work we did in launching ABN (Alliance for Better Nonprofits) has paid off well for our region. Membership continues to grow, and they have now merged with United Way. They have won a $25 million community-building grant, a grant written and managed by a graduate of our CSEE’s executive program. The ABN training program we launched for board members, based on your emphasis on governance as a key determinant of success, trained 100 high-potential professionals as future board members, and the success of that program has led ABN to continue offering it in-house.”
Miller concludes with this very meaningful tribute: “In a nutshell, you have done more to move our nonprofits toward a more business-like approach than anyone I know.”
The lessons learned are pretty simple but powerful. When leaders from the private and public sectors team up around a shared passion and focus on the goal of long-term impact, they can really make a difference. That’s the legacy of CSEE, ABN, and the “Learning By Giving” course, thanks to Goss and Miller.